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Like the veins in a tree leaf, these ribs – made of flax fibers – reinforce thin substrates, increasing the substrate’s stability without increasing its weight. That is the principle behind the Powerribs composite material developed by the Swiss-based Bcomp company . The insulating properties of the new material are up to 250 percent higher than for comparable materials, making it easier and much less expensive to manufacture fiber composite parts.

Nature as a stabilizing factor

The new technology also has a positive impact on the environment, since it replaces artificial fibers made of glass or carbon with natural ones. The percentage of renewable materials in construction goes up, while the relative weight goes down. What led Bcomp to decide in favor of natural fibers? Because they excel in terms of their low density and high volume. The Swiss materials specialists moreover succeeded in transforming the limited length of the individual fibers into a significant advantage by spinning the individual natural fibers into yarn. This twisting makes the yarn resilient to the pressure of subsequent processing, allowing the part to retain its original shape.

Other bio-composites can also be used instead of flax – for example natural-fiber-reinforced plastic. The patented Powerribs material is already being used to manufacture bicycle frames and seat posts.

Hollow, round and lightweight

Another new material being used for bicycle manufacturing consists of lightweight, thin-walled pipes made of wood veneer: Lignotubes . These new lightweight pipes were developed in Dresden, where years of research went into developing the technology used for their manufacture. "Our objective was to create an efficient and practical solution for lightweight structures using natural materials," explains Curt Beck, process engineer and co-founder of LignoTUBE Technologies. "Because we are by definition intensively involved with wood as a natural material, it was only logical for us to employ it in its most elegant manifestation – veneer" adds industrial designer Robert Taranczewski.

The principle: Several veneer layers made out of real wood are glued together in a spiral pattern under high pressure. The result is a hollow body which is not only lightweight but also suitable for a variety of applications – from lightweight structural frame designs to custom interior design. That is because the diameter, length and width of the Lignotubes can be flexibly adapted to the respective application. This veneer composite material can moreover be processed just like wood, without requiring any special tools, making it easy and inexpensive to create the desired end product.

Taranczewski and Beck anticipate a wide variety of future application fields – from the woodworking industry to automotive and shipbuilding, even aviation and aerospace.

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