The FARBioTY project should have many environmental, economic, social and political impacts.
1- Ensuring optimal use of natural resources
Flax fibres adoption has the potential to reduce fibre glass production and the exploitation of raw materials it involves. Developing this alternative in a competitive and realistic way would thus provide an efficient solution to reduce massive sand extractions, petroleum-derivation and massive wastes of water, and would result in a better use of natural resources in general.
Moreover, the production of flax fibres solely relies on the technical transformation of the natural fibrous structure of flax, which is a natural and abundant resource. Crops can be sustainably developed and managed to provide the natural fibres needed, and the transformation of the plant into a fibrous structure only relies on mechanical weaving process. Flax is grown in temperate climates and its European variety is one of the best grown in terms of fibres content and quality. It grows particularly well in the mid-northern oceanic European climate thanks to a stable, humid and moderate summer season. Flax growing is not particularly demanding. It is a crop which grows easily and which does not require particular attention. It grows quickly (within 120 days) and is particularly good for crop rotation.
Nowadays, flax growing is managed mechanically and does not require time-consuming, manual work. The first output of flax fibres (83%) is the textile industry, in which flax utilisation is keeping growing. The rest is used for paper and composite material production. This means that there is no loss in the production cycle of flax fibres. What is not used in composite materials can be reinvested in the textile or building industry. This contributes to a greener and circular economy. Besides, the use of flax fibres will require an additional step for flame retardancy, with ammonia curing. It has to be noted that the excess of ammonia during treatment is completely recovered by distillation, thus complying with the principles of the “green and circular economy” LIFE priority.
2- Reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions
The whole life cycle of the flax fibre biocomposites has to be compared to that of fibreglass composites in order to understand the reduction of CO2 emissions. Processes from the extraction of the material to the production of fibreglass require sand, transportation, petroleum-derivatives, high temperature ovens and a lot of water. While the transformation of sand and chemicals into fibreglass therefore requires a significant amount of energy, the transformation in itself is polluting.
A total of 442,600 MJ are consumed and 2.62 tons of CO2 are created per ton of glass fibres produced.
On the contrary, given that all the production operations consist in the weaving of the crop into continuous fibres and the weaving of these fibres into structured matrices, flax fibre manufacturing requires 180 400 MJ/ton of flax fibre, representing 0.666 ton of CO2.
In total, flax fibre production indeed requires about four time less (non-renewable) energy than production of glass fibres.
In addition to these energy savings during production processes, growing plants have the other advantage of having photovoltaic effects. As a consequence, and, just like for any crops, flax growing is directly linked with the absorption of atmospheric CO2 to grow. When regarding the CO2 absorption data of concentrated crops, the impact is significant. According to a report published in 2015 by the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp, the storage of European flax has been estimated at about 250,000 tons of CO2 each year.
LIFE FARBioTY aiming at enhancing, through the introduction of the fireproof treatment, the utilization of flax fibres has the objective to make their environmental advantages more substantially exploited.
1- Adressing the composite and biocomposite markets
The production of composite materials has been increasing by 8% every year over the past 50 years, North America helding the largest share in the production of composites in 2013 with the U.S. being the leading country.
In 2010, 14% of all composite materials were biocomposites. Market studies have shown that the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of natural fibres composites is expected to reach between 11 and 12% (depending on the studies) until 2020. The share of the biocomposite market is thus expected to grow of 11% per year, reaching the production of 920,000 tons in 2020 in Europe. Compared with the 3% CAGR of all composites in Europe, this growth represents a high potential of new jobs in the sector that Europe needs to be ready to catch.
While the EU produces flax, the transformation of raw material is mostly performed abroad. Currently, 90% of the flax production goes to Asia (China) for textile transformation. The development of flax fibre biocomposite expected as a result of the FARBioTY project will enhance the development of a related industry for its transformation and manufacture. The success of the project will boost demand and job creations in this particular industry without infringing on the fibreglass composite sector.
2- Enhancing the economic activities of European flax producing regions
The European flax is widely known for being strong and thin crop providing high quality fibres. Currently, 80% of the flax world production comes from Europe, spread between France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The development of flax fibres for biocomposites will directly foster new economic activity in flax-producing regions.
3- Enhancing the competitiveness of European industries
The emergence of a high-tech, homemade biocomposite industry is an opportunity to trigger a European competitiveness on this particular technology. The EU Member States already control the production and have most of the best, high-tech application industries (train, car, shipping and aeronautical companies). This represents a competitive advantage the EU should exploit. The development of an accurate and fireproof technology will trigger parallel innovation dynamics in the application industries in terms of engineering, R&D, new projects… The opportunity represented in the development of the technology and associated industry will positively impact the EU in terms of growth through its leading position and competitive advantage.
4- Enhancing the economic activities of European industries active in the field of biocomposite formulations and manufacturing
The introduction of such a technology on the European and world market will directly benefit the flax, resin and biocomposite manufacturing industries. Even difficult to quantify at that stage (a business plan will be drafted in Action B3.2), the turnover of each enterprise will be directly impacted by this growth.
Social and political impacts
1- Increase in employment rate and job creation
While enhancing the European economic activities in the sector of flax and biocomposites production, FARBioTY will indirectly contribute to increase opportunities of job creations and employment in:
• Flax producing industries. The flax sector gathers several professions such as the farmers growing the flax, flax scutching and flax treatment. The development of a flax fibre industry for biocomposites will boost the demand for flax and carry the growing flaxsector. Given that the demand of flax fibres for textile is not expected to decrease, an increase of job creations in the rural areas growing flax can be expected to answer a stronger demand, primarily in France, Belgium and The Netherlands, and later in other EU countries as the technology is getting adopted.
• And other industries active in the treatment, resin formulation, integration and pieces manufacturing
2- Limiting negative impacts of biocomposites manufacturing on health
The technology of the LIFE FARBioTY project aims to be used as an alternative to fibreglass not only for its environmental benefits, but also for its health and safety qualities. Flax fibres are not harmful and irritating as glass fibres are. The effects of a large scale development of the fireproof biocomposite technology will be a reduction of the irritating and carcinogenic material production (fibreglass) and the creation of a safer working environment for biocomposite manufacturers.
3- Increasing the attractiveness and recognition of European know-how for eco-innovative solutions development
Being innovative and succeeding developing environmental friendly technologies can be a source of pride and attractiveness. The success of the LIFE FARBioTY project and the replication of its technology will certainly contribute to the recognition of the European know-how and competitiveness. Innovation triggers innovation and the success of the environmental transition relies on the capacity to provide a stable and strong green growth.
4- Setting up incentives for encouraging transportation industrials to use biocomposite materials
In addition to fire concerns, the limited utilisation of biocomposite materials in the transportation industry can also be explained by a higher purchasing price of biocomposite materials compared to the one on fibreglass-made composite materials. While the FARBioTY partners aim to offer a solution being as costly as existing solution, they will also dedicate some time to study political measurers that exist to encourage industrials to use biocomposites and propose solutions to make this incentive improved.