Sustainable material supply

Renewable and circular carbon for polymeric materials

Sustainable solutions for the reduction, reuse and recycling of carbon are essential to achieve the long-term goal of climate neutrality. Renewable raw materials must form the basis for polymeric materials. Current research approaches show that this is possible.

Fraunhofer IFAM is developing sustainable polymer materials used in adhesives, potting compounds, coatings, and composites. In doing so, the institute is making an essential contribution to the European Green Deal and the goal of climate neutrality. In the production of polymer materials, it is particularly important to use renewable raw materials that are either biobased or CO2-based or are obtained from recycled materials, and to avoid the use of fossil-based chemicals.

Polymeric materials based on renewable raw materialsis

Fiber-reinforced plastics are already used as lightweight materials in various areas with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions. If they are also biobased, they have a lower carbon footprint over the entire product life cycle. Fraunhofer IFAM is researching and developing biobased composite materials for use in shipbuilding, rail vehicle construction, aviation, and the automotive industry. A challenge is posed by the different material requirements in terms of strength and stiffness, fire behavior and end-of-life recycling concepts. In addition to the possibility of composting the materials, approaches to degradable and recyclable composites are being explored.

CO2 as a raw material

A sustainable supplement to biobased resources is carbon dioxide, which can be used to produce chemical commodities and materials. At Fraunhofer IFAM, CO2 is used as a raw material for polyurethanes — essential for adhesives, foams and plastics. The CO2-based polyurethane building blocks form the basis for epoxy resins, hotmelt as well as UV- and moisture-curing adhesives.

Use of recycled raw materials

Carbon fibers are produced from fossil raw materials requiring large amounts of energy and resources. This makes it even more important to handle them responsibly and use them efficiently as a material or resource. In the EU-funded FOREST project, innovative biobased polymers and additives are combined with recycled carbon fibers to develop high-quality composite materials. The three key factors of reduce, reuse and recycle are being pursued in the process. Fraunhofer IFAM is involved in the design, synthesis, and development of new biobased benzoxazines.

New biobased and biodegradable materials for the automotive industry

Climate change on the one hand and the EU End-of-Life Vehicles Directive on the other hand are presenting the automotive industry with the challenge of reducing CO2 emissions and improving the recyclability of the materials used. The aim of the BestBioPLA project is to develop biobased and biodegradable lightweight materials for vehicle interiors. Brazilian and German companies along the entire process chain, from agricultural cultivation of the raw materials to industrial use, have jointly developed appropriate materials. These are characterized by time- and energy-efficient production and, thanks to their biodegradability, enable end-of-life recycling. A largely biobased unsaturated polyester forms the polymer base, reinforced with flax as natural fibers. The use of locally grown resources contributes to the sustainable development of the respective target region. In addition to economic aspects, this is expected to decrease the environmental impact both during production and disposal at the end of the product’s life.