Knowledge atlas Science

LaNDER3 – Interdisciplinary Research Center and Network for Natural Fiber Extraction, Utilization, and Recycling of Natural Fiber Reinforced Plastic Composites

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The LaNDER3 research network aims for the holistic material and technology development concerning natural fiber-reinforced plastics. In various research projects, the entire material cycle is considered, starting from the extraction of natural fibers to their use in composite materials, and finally to the utilization/recycling of components at the end of the product life. The partnership has its scientific foundation at the Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences (HSZG) and is strengthened through co-operations with primarily regionally based companies and partners. In this portrait, we present the working group for fiber extraction, the utilization of resulting organic residues, and the recovery of inorganic valuable substances - crucial components of the efficient use of natural resources.

Area of Expertise
Holistic material and technology development concerning natural fiber-reinforced plastics (NFK), i.e., research on the extraction, utilization, and recycling of natural fiber-plastic composites. The technology to be developed in the impulse project 8 presented here is intended to enable the extraction of fibers, as well as the holistic material-energy utilization of all components of the plant material. By utilizing this significant value-creation potential, sustainable production of various valuable by-products (value-added products) is achievable, aligning with the concept of bio-refineries.
Scientists / Scientific team
The LaNDER3 research network brings together several scientific sub-projects involving scientists from the Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences and external scientists (e.g., Fraunhofer Institutes) as well as projects realized in co-operation with companies. In addition, student assistants are always involved in individual projects. Currently, 20 researchers and around 30 mostly regional partner companies and scientific institutions are involved in the various subprojects. In sub-project IP 8 Bio-refinery, the following scientists are involved (as of December 2023): Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank Hentschel, Dipl.-Ing. Matthias Tirsch, Dipl.-Umwelting. Judit Harsányi, Dr. rer. nat. Marzena Poraj-Kobielska, Andreas Elvermann.
Location, Institution, Website
Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences Link to website
Type of Institution
Interdisciplinary research center or interdisciplinary research partnership affiliated with the Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences, with co-operations with regional and nationwide companies and partners from science and society. LaNDER3 is supported, among other sources, by funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Laboratory and research space
Natural Fiber Center (Core Building, Natural Fiber Extraction, Processing, Recycling). Additional Research Laboratories (Coating NFK, Energy Generation and Storage, Utilization of Generated Acids) – Zittau and Görlitz Campus. Experimental Fields in the Surrounding Area (Hemp, Flax, Amaranth, Nettle).
Materials and equipment
Plant-based raw materials. Residual materials from urban green space maintenance (e.g. leaves, grass cuttings). Residual materials from water protection. Residual materials from industrial food processing. Mushrooms.
Technology / Tools / Machines
Bioreactors in various sizes from laboratory to pilot plant scale for fibre digestion. A continuous fibre digestion plant is currently being developed and built in cooperation with a regional company. Tools for fibre pulping. Waste sorting plant. A co-operation for the development of a corresponding harvesting technology will start soon. Project-related use of external facilities in companies involved in the project - A spinning mill is being sought that can spin small quantities of long-fibre materials on a trial basis.
Research Methods / Processes
Research questions from their own work are often complemented with satellite projects with companies to be able to respond specifically to research and development requests and thus transfer new developments from the laboratory to industrial practice via short innovation paths. Cultivation and harvest of fiber plants under controlled conditions. Further development and control of the retting in the bioreactor with a focus on desired fiber qualities and various raw materials. Manual extraction of fibers from the retted fiber plant, tests for further processing of fibers, e.g., for technical applications and textile purposes. Co-operation with external experts in textiles and design: For example, with a local textile expert to demonstrate how flax can be made usable again for textile applications, the flax was decorticated and spun and woven in the Damask Museum Großschönau (Deutsches Damast- und Frottiermuseum Großschönau). This allowed the entire process of utilizing this fiber to be presented and understood. Co-operation with companies in the design field: For instance, for new wall/floor designs, exploring which materials are left over and how they could be used. Further co-operations in the textile field are desired, especially in fashion and design.

Most impactful project
Controlled water retting in a bioreactor is a forward-looking technology for improving fibre qualities, e.g. of hemp, which also makes it possible to consider broad textile processing for hemp. The water retting currently required for textile hemp in China and other countries is an ecological disaster for the neighbouring or affected waters (eutrophication) and is therefore prohibited in Europe. The hemp grown in Germany is therefore dry-roasted in the field and is only suitable for textiles to a limited extent, as it is often grown for biomass yield and seeds and is therefore harvested late, resulting in fibres with a low fines content. The research in Zittau could ensure that textile manufacturers will be able to use regional hemp in the future. The vision of the LaNDER3 network is that in the future, natural fibers, where possible, will be used as a substitute for carbon fibers and other poorly recyclable raw materials. Co-operations with design-associated partners are also desired, testing and further developing the uses of natural fibers, such as for flooring or textiles.

Awards, certifications, or scientific recognition
The research network attracts a great deal of public attention, particularly through the external impact of the individual projects. In addition to the publication of completed research projects and participation in international conferences and meetings, the work of the network is also publicised through reports in the regional press, open days at the university and guided tours for interested parties from various fields. Schools also frequently visit the Natural Fibre Centre. In addition, LaNDER3 was featured in a special edition of the popular German children's science programme "Sendung mit der Maus".

Circular Economy

The vision of the LANDER3 network is to achieve a circular economy and generate and use renewable energy with the help of natural fibers and bio-polymers. Production and life in the industry of the 21st century only works WITH nature and not through its endless exploitation. In the network’s establishment phase, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and partners from the commercial sector, this vision was initially linked with local and nationwide partners, leading to the initiation and completion of initial research projects. The research network is currently in its second phase. The partnership’s technological unique selling point remains the consideration of the closed value chain of natural fiber composite materials: from the extraction of natural fibers to the utilization of components at the end of the lifecycle.

 

Natural Fiber Center

In the Natural Fiber Center, the heart and the experimental hall of the research network, all three areas of fiber extraction, processing, and recycling can work closely together in one room and quickly exchange information with each other. Additionally, office and workspaces are housed in the same building, further facilitating co-operation. The network consists of many individual research projects, not only operating in the Natural Fiber Center but also at the university.  

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Interdisciplinarity

Research within the LaNDER3 network is always interdisciplinary. The processes and methods used depend on the different questions in individual projects. In the presented impulse project 8, various methods of fiber extraction and utilization are developed, tested and optimised in experimental series. These are recorded in a database for natural fibers, including data on fiber geometry and strength, contributing to the determination of the potential use of regional raw materials. The centerpiece is the bioreactor, allowing controlled water retting of the fiber plant. Process waters generated during plant treatment in the bioreactor contains certain basic chemicals (mainly organic acids, such as acetic acid and lactic acid) that can be used to produce bio-based plastics or their precursor products. This allows the partial or complete replacement of fossil sources with renewable raw materials, reducing the ecological footprint and manufacturing costs of composite plastics by using more affordable alternative raw materials. The aim is also to replace plastics with natural materials in all areas wherever possible. This should also contribute to the development of concepts for the material and energy utilization of sewage sludge and other waste streams from agriculture and the food industry. Additionally, the role of specific bacteria and fungi in fiber extraction is examined with the goal of optimizing the fiber extraction process through the targeted use of these microorganisms to obtain high-quality natural fibers. Furthermore, research is conducted on the development of an environmentally friendly recycling technology for natural fiber-reinforced plastics using specific fiber-decomposing fungi.