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Biomaterials: The end of dependency

The path towards sustainable biomaterials

The plastic strengthened by wood fibres, “epylen”, is the first step towards sustainable biomaterials for ebm-papst

Companies are trying to escape climbing oil prices with products made from renewable resources. ebm-papst is also on this path – and with a so-called “bio-fan” they are celebrating their first successes. “Bio” because the wall ring of the ESM energy-saving fan is made from a new material: “epylen”. This composite material is made of up to 50 percent wood fibre. “Customers have reacted very positively to it,” emphasises Gunter streng, Head of Development Product range A at ebm-papst in Mulfingen. His team tested over 50 biomaterials.

It became clear from the tests that the material now being used possessed the best characteristics for static components like the wall ring. The company requires durability and temperature stability for every material put to use. But “epylen” can do even more: CO2 emissions and energy consumption are reduced by a third during production.

Away from fossil fuels

“epylen” is an important first step for ebm-papst in using more sustainable materials. However, the search in the R&D department for sustainable biomaterials is continuously ongoing. Streng illustrates the central dilemma: biomaterials that can be used to manufacture rotors already exist. For example, a heavy-duty polyamide made partially with castor oil. “This would be an easy way to make ourselves look ‘green’ – but at a very high price,” streng explains for consideration. The material is, first and foremost, significantly more expensive than conventional materials and is thus uneconomical. And there is another, important rationale: “We want to free ourselves from dependency on oil by using biomaterials – without being tethered to something new.” Such as the limited cultivation of ricinus communis, the castor oil plant. This is also a substantial reason why the wood for the materials being used now comes from sustainably forested, domestic forests.

Residual material instead of competition

But this is not the end of the discussion for ebm-papst, since wood resources are in high demand. They are assumed to offer solutions in a wide variety of areas: as a means of CO2 storage, as building materials, a fuel, and as a pristine recreational area. ebm-papst does not want to steadily exacerbate this competition situation with their use of biomaterials.The goal in the end is to use 100 percent sustainable organic resources, which are priced at a level the market can bear. For Streng there is only one solution: “Ultimately we want to use organic raw materials that are defined as residual material.” A good example for that is lignin, which is a by-product of paper production and is normally simply burned. “But we’re only a little bit away from making a usable material from it for our own use.” By 2015 that will have changed.

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