2019 just finished and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed that it was the second warmest year in the recorded history (with the warmest year not falling too far in the past in 2016). Predictions show that this upward trend is expected to continue due to the rising levels of heat-trapping greenhouse emissions caused by human activity. Due to global increase in temperature, the past years have been characterized by climate anomalies, such as increase of the sea levels due to polar ice melting and devastating consequences for the life at sea due to ocean-acidification (a direct effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacting to saltwater). If left uncontrolled these phenomena have the potential be a great threat to the well-being of the future generations.
Source: World Metrological Organization (https://public.wmo.int/en)
Although we are part of the cause of global warming, we can also be part of the solution through innovation and widespread dissemination of new more environmentally friendly technologies that can form an integral part of the climate change policy. In bio-composite research, we try to contribute to this movement of eco-friendly technologies by using the natural resources to our benefit and produce high-performance products that can maintain or even improve our daily comforts and at the same time keep an ecological balance between the human needs and the biosphere.
How bio-composites meet these requirements? During their growth, natural fibers capture enormous amounts of CO2, which is a key factor in combating the increasing effects of greenhouse emissions. Additionally, life has spent millions of years in “R&D” through evolution giving natural fibers a complex hierarchical structure that provides good specific stiffness and strength that can outperform, for specific applications, synthetic materials already in the market.
Our current research in KU Leuven focuses on understanding and addressing problems of natural fibers, such as optimizing the complex fiber-matrix interfacial adhesion, developing different strategies to improve the durability of bio-composites by reducing their sensitivity in humid environments or finding novel methods to extract the fibers from the plants with minimum damage to the fiber. Hopefully, by addressing these problems we can boost the performance of bio-composites and help in enabling their widespread use in structural applications, proving that going “green” does not necessarily mean sacrifice in performance.
ESR 10 - KU Leuven