Aims and objectives

Aims and objectives 

The main aim of this project is to increase the production value of flax through exploring its potential use:

  • In biomedical applications (such as a biomedical material in wound care)
  • As a foodstuff
  • As a biodegradable material for packaging, including food packaging

In parallel with this aim, the project team will look at innovative ways in which to minimise waste production and reduce carbon footprint in the production of flax-based products.

This implies :

that the raw and end materials (fibres, seeds as well as seed mucilages and natural flax composite) are free of any chemical additive and/or are not submitted to any chemical treatment.

The project brings together R&D activities of three regional universities, research institution and a local company, with complementary expertise in producing and processing flax fibre and flax composite materials, extracting natural products with medical and nutritious value, manufacturing, characterisation and testing of fibre-based and composite-based carrier packaging and food packaging and biomedical materials.

Flax fibre is an attractive material for a number of reasons: it is mechanically strong, biodegradable and produced from a renewable resource. Flax has high content of poly-unsaturated fats, which are beneficial for health; regular use of such natural substances in a diet reduces level of cholesterol in blood and risk of coronary artery disease. At present applications of flax are fairly limited, mostly because alternative natural fibres such as cotton, silk and jute, imported from overseas, and synthetic fibres are used. Flax fibre accounts for only 0.7% of the world’s fibre production. However, concerns for environmental pollution and global climate change have imposed significant pressure on industry and society as a whole to reduce environmental impact of human activity, in particular, carbon footprint and minimise waste generation in all types of activities, including production and use of materials. It is expected that the use of advanced composite materials based on locally grown flax will make a substantial contribution towards solving this problem.

Project Objectives

The objective of this project is to create a virtual cross-border centre of excellence with a joint programme of research and development in the field of the exploration of innovative uses and applications for linen flax. Areas of research agreed to date include investigation into the use of flax and flax-based composites as packaging materials; as biomedical materials for wound and patient care; as tissue scaffolds for regenerative medicine; and as a food source for healthy diet. The research proposed in this project and the products to be developed are highly innovative and expected to outperform existing products available in the market. They include flax fibre wool to replace cotton wool in wound care and general patient care. Due to its superior mechanical and structural properties flax wool is expected to be more durable and able to absorb more wound excudate than the conventional cotton wool. Presence of linseed oil in the fibres will add anti-bacterial properties to the flax wool thus protecting wounds from infection. Cotton wool does not possess such properties. Woven and non-woven flax-based materials will provide more comfort for chronic patients who require long stay in hospitals. Ultimately these materials will shorten time required for complete recovery of patients reducing financial burden on health care providers. Flax based tissue scaffolds offer exciting opportunities for regenerative medicine. They uniquely combine excellent mechanical properties and biodegradability which can be controlled by surface modification of the fibres. This cutting edge research is expected to generate novel unrivalled materials for regenerative medicine. The project team will also exchange best practice and knowledge on the optimum growing conditions for flax. The temperate coastal region of South East of England has very similar climatic conditions to the North of France, which are beneficial for growing flax and make France the lead flax manufacturing country in Europe, which produces the best quality flax fibre in the world.

An environmental impact assessment of replacing currently used packaging materials by flax-based materials will be undertaken and it is envisaged that replacing synthetic packaging materials produced from non-renewable resources and replacing alternative natural fibre materials imported from overseas will significantly reduce environmental impact and carbon footprint of packaging.

Main actions envisaged (please provide an outline – further details can be provided under section 8.1)

To achieve these objectives, flax fibre and composite flax-based materials will be environmentally friendly produced and their mechanical, physical, structural, physicochemical and chemical properties will be characterised using advanced techniques and facilities available at the academic partners of the consortium ;

  • high end extra strong packaging based on flax and flax composite materials will be developed; -the target for mechanical properties are above than those of cotton but average ones / usual ones (we are not looking for the highest mechanical properties which are only needed for high performance composites and not needed for our applications )
  • biodegradability of flax based compositesand packaging materials will be studied using accelerated ageing techniques; effect of soil micro-organisms and environment (pH, temperature, humidity) will be estimated;
  • environmental impact associated with the production and processing of flax based packaging materials and replacing the currently used materials will be estimated using Life Cycle Assessment;
  • nutrition value of flax components will be assessed in order to develop food supplements for healthy diet;
  • flax based biomaterials for wound and patient care and tissue scaffolds will be designed;
  • bactericidal properties and biocompatibility of flax fibre, flax wool and fabrics will be assessed using clinically reflective in vitro methods; no animal studies will be performed;
  • cell in-growth and biodegradability of tissue scaffolds will be studied;
  • novel type of food-contact and ‘carry bag’ type of packaging for ready-to-eat-meals will be designed;
  • the sorption properties of these materials are of importance and have to be properly characterized

Expected outcomes:

new bactericidal flax wool materials for wound care, superior to cotton wool; new forms of raw flax materials for materials technologies; high tech mechanically strong re-usable and biodegradable packaging made from renewable sources; reduction of dependence on Far East suppliers and reduction of carbon footprint by replacing materials imported from overseas by local materials; replacement of labour-intensive weaving and sewing by non-woven materials; flax-based foodstuff with high polyunsaturated fat content for healthy diet; novel packaging materials for ready-to-eat meals.

The novel biomedical materials developed in this project will provide more efficient and cost-effective treatment of patients and will open up opportunities for creating advanced tissue scaffolds for regenerative medicine. Currently there are no satisfactory tissue scaffolds available in the market. Production of materials for medical applications and food additives will create high added value for flax based products benefiting all links in the production and supply chain, from farmers growing flax to manufacturers of flax based products, customers, patients and health care providers.