Cellulose fibres with transformative potential

By Christian BlockLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

Researchers want to create an environmentally friendly alternative to carbon and glass fibres using specially developed cellulose fibres. We visited the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), which is involved in the international research project.

Is it the demonstration effect or the fact that it's Monday? In any case, the machine went on strike. No problem for Dr Shameek Vats, who can quickly fix the fault. The researcher has already gained some experience with the technique, including home-made models. He cleans the clogged syringe and puts it back in place. Time for a new attempt.

On this day, we are in a field office of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST). What Dr Shameek Vats and Dr Carlos Fuentes-Rojas from the Materials Research and Technology (MRT) department want to show us is called electrospinning. Yes, things are about to get a bit technical.

Electrospinning is a technique for producing fine nanofibres with the help of an electric field. You could also say: a device transforms a liquid into a kind of fabric. For this purpose, a solution is fed into a syringe via a tube. The drops are then exposed to a strong electric field. Instead of simply dripping out of the cannula, the mixture is broken down into tiny fibres. The process in this case is somewhat reminiscent of a ceiling sprinkler in action: at the right angle, you can watch through the glass as thousands of fibres spray out, collecting at the bottom on a kind of aluminium foil. Layer by layer, a fabric of the finest threads is thus created. The technique is being tested for medical purposes, for example, to regenerate organs or human tissue. For this purpose, "the tissue must be randomly arranged. […] With composites, it's a different matter, " Fuentes-Rojas explains. But more on that later.

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