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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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