A circular process for using natural fibres to duplicate a wide variety of materials normally made from plastics is being developed
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Spotted: A US Department of Defense-funded project is developing new manufacturing technologies that use widely available natural fibres like silk and hemp instead of non-biodegradable man-made plastics. Natural Fibre Welding Inc. has developed a scalable fabrication platform that reformats natural fibres to create stronger and longer-lasting materials.
The company has developed a proprietary, closed-loop process that alters natural fibres at a molecular level, breaking them down and then ‘rebuilding’ them, without denaturing the polymers that make up the individual fibres. The process uses chemicals that are completely recovered during the process, the overall effect being to “glue” the fibres together without actually using any glue.
The process allows complex composite materials to be assembled quickly and efficiently, creating structures with properties that were once only found in plastics. It also allows the company to create fabrics and materials designed for specific purposes. One such product is a faux leather that is completely natural and “tuneable”, its structure altered to give specific properties and performances.
Natural Fibre Welding has built up a large patent portfolio and is exploring licensing and investment options. The company was awarded almost €1.8 million in small business funding to develop new processes and materials, including electronic textiles. Natural Fibre describes its work as “reformatting to broaden the spectrum of natural capabilities.”
The use of natural fibres has received a tremendous amount of interest recently, and at Springwise, we have seen our fair share of similar innovations. These have included a number of products made from natural materials, such as a seaweed-based nappy, textiles made from food waste and palm leaf leather.