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A Training Network on Designing Novel Bio-based Fibre Products for Targeted Advanced Properties and New Applications

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FibreNet (A Training Network on Designing Novel Bio-based Fibre Products for Targeted Advanced Properties and New Applications)

Période du rapport: 2019-12-01 au 2022-05-31

FibreNet trained young fibre-professionals for academic and non-academic sectors. These professionals have multidisciplinary perspective and competences to develop sustainable bio-based fibre products with tailored properties for different application fields.

Bio-based industries form an important industrial sector in Europe. According to the Bio-based Industries Consortium, the field accounts for more than 18 million jobs and approximately 8% of the workforce in EU with a potential to create 1 million new green jobs by 2030. The European Commission has recognized the bioeconomy as one of the future drivers for sustainable economic growth in Europe and has shaped a strategy for the development of the sector.

The traditional bio-fibre based industry is undergoing an intensive transformation. This is due to overcapacity (resulting, e.g. from the reduction in the use of paper due digitalization), push towards bio-based economy (greener products needed throughout their life cycle), and changes in the needs and priorities of end users (changes caused, e.g. by the aging society). Thus, there is an increasing need for totally new environmentally friendly products and for products with new functionalities. This transformation requires very specific multidisciplinary research actions and professionals with new types of skill sets and competences. Development of innovative products requires a deep understanding of the fibre materials and their functionalization and behavior as well as broad knowledge on existing and emerging applications. The education and research in FibreNet specifically addressed this combined challenge of understanding both the materials and the broad field of applications.

The main research objectives were related to three important application areas of bio-based fibres:
• to boost the competitiveness of biocomposites in the composites sector and improve their strength and durability properties by enhancing the fibre-matrix interface properties,
• to improve the price-competitiveness and functionality of paper and fibre-based packages by developing new modification, characterization and modelling methods and tools,
• to improve biocompatibility, extend the linear drug release period and increase pilot production capabilities in fibre-based wound healing and tissue engineering applications.
The main scientific results according to the application fields are:

• Biocomposites: Improving adhesion properties between the fibres and the polymer matrix and improving the durability of biocomposites in the presence of moisture. Furthermore, different computer models have been built to understand fibre-related phenomena and the computational methods have been complemented by developing micromechanical characterization methods.
• Paper & packaging: Development of new strength chemicals for pulp and paper to improve mechanical performance of paper sheets and the development of new measurement methods to automatically characterize pulp fibre properties and understand adhesion between such soft surfaces as fibres. Furthermore, computer models were developed for providing better understanding how paper materials fracture, which factors control the strength distribution and the mechanical properties of plant cell walls.
• Biomedical applications: Fabrication and testing of different functionalized bio-based fibres for wound healing and self-heating textiles. Furthermore, functional 3D printed cell scaffolds were developed for regenerative medicine.
• Life Cycle Analysis: A decision-support model that accounts for environmental impacts in the design of biomass supply chains and analyses how different stages in the supply chain contribute to environmental and economic performance.
The results have been exploited in multiple ways: they have been incorporated in the courses at different universities to provide the latest scientific knowledge to students in the field; they have been used in preparing new project proposals to progress the science and the application of the results even further; and they have been used in strengthening the European workforce in industry and academia. Also participating companies have identified exploitation potential.

The results have been actively disseminated during the project through open access scientific publications, oral and poster presentations and visiting lectures in international and national events as well as in an open scientific FibreNet seminar. In addition, the project has been communicated to the media and to the public through the project web site, expert interviews, YouTube videos, blog texts and LinkedIn. The consortium also participated in a Science is wonderful event and two Researchers’ Night events and published a European level magazine article.
The progress beyond the state of the art (SoA) in FibreNet is related to forming a common toolbox for different application areas of bio-based fibres. The toolbox includes methods for functionalizing and modifying fibres and fibre properties, fibre characterization, modelling, production and life cycle assessment. The goal has been to better link the fibre properties at atomistic and microscale to the product properties at macroscale. This link enables the tuning and optimizing the characteristics of the end-products. In each of the 15 individual research projects, there have been several methodological advancements and scientific findings each contributing to the described progress beyond the SoA.

The project has positive impact on the students’ career prospects. This is due to the holistic approach adopted in the training: Besides the individual research topics that went deep in rather narrow fields, the students were given a truly multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral perspective to the field of bio-based fibres. The above combined with excellent networking abilities and carefully planned transferable skills training has produced bio-fibre professionals holding multiple perspectives and strong identities as independent and innovative researchers ready for both public and private sectors.

The project has created new contents to the courses and new supervision practices at universities generating a long-term impact not only in doctoral education but also in bachelor and master education.

The project has also significant economic and societal impacts, e.g.:
• Improved competitiveness of the European bio-based industry: New fibre products create new business. New functionalities in existing products help to retain competitiveness and to sustain the bio-based fibre industries in Europe.
• Greener society: Understanding and being able to modulate the link between the fibre properties and the properties of the end product enables reducing the amount of raw material in the product, applying more sustainable chemistry and smaller dosages of chemicals, using recycled material without impairing the product properties, replacing fossil-based materials with bio-based fibre materials and meeting the continuously tightening environmental/chemical regulations. This also translates to competitive advantage on global markets.
• Improvement of well-being: FibreNet contributed to creating new bio-fibre based biomedical products that enable new and better treatments. New wound healing methods and cell-based treatments can, e.g. increase life expectancy, improve patients’ capacity to work and promote active and healthy aging.
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