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Research scales up to replace plastics with natural fibre materials

More than 50 companies have joined forces in a three-year pilot project to scale up the use of natural fibre based materials to replace plastics in a number of products, including textiles.

The Piloting Alternatives for Plastics project has secured EUR 6.7m (US$7.29m) in funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Finland’s technical research centre VTT, and companies coordinated by the Regional Council of Central Finland.

Not only is the consumption of fossil-derived plastics set to double over the next 20 years, but, only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled, so the majority of plastic ends up being incinerated or in landfill, and even dumped in forests and oceans.

Materials based on natural fibres such as wood and spider silk offer a potential alternative in a range of items such as packaging, hygiene products, building materials and textiles. VTT is working with companies to take the manufacture of new generation fibre products from the laboratory to commercial production. 

The pilots are being carried out at VTT in Jyväskylä, with access to the first research environment in the world to utilise the foam-forming process. 

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“In this project, we are creating a new understanding of bio-based fibre networks and how, by tailoring them, we can produce new types of recyclable materials that do not burden the environment”, says VTT vice president Jani Lehto.

The project runs until 31 March 2023, with participants including 52 companies from Finland and elsewhere in Europe.