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Three bicycle and pedestrian bridges made of biocomposites will be built in the Netherlands and Germany – the first in April 2022 in Almere (NL). © Smart Circular Bridge

Raw materials are becoming scarce and climate change continues to progress. In this situation, bio-composite materials open up great opportunities for the construction industry. By means of such materials, the considerable CO2 footprint can be reduced, the immense consumption of resources can be limited and the entry into a bio-based circular economy can be advanced. Unlike wood, for example, flax is a fast-growing plant. In combination with a special bio-resin, it can be used to produce a lightweight and highly stable material whose properties are comparable to those of aluminium or steel.

Within the framework of the EU project “Smart Circular Bridge”, the development of three bridges made of bio-composite material is intended to find out what is possible with such an innovative new material. This is worthwhile if only because tens of thousands of bridges will have to be replaced in Europe in the next few years. With regard to the question of what options arise for the building material when the bridges have reached the end of their service life after many decades, three possibilities are currently conceivable: mechanical, chemical and even biological recycling using fungi. The most important thing is that the cascade of use of the material lasts as long as possible.

A first bridge made of bio-composite material has now been built at the international horticultural exhibition “Floriade” in Almere, the Netherlands; two more for pedestrians and cyclists are being erected in Ulm and in Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands. In addition to the 100 % natural flax fibres, the resin is also to come from non-fossil sources as far as possible. The proportion of bio-resin is 25 % for the first bridge and will be 60 % or more for the next bridges. This is achieved by using waste products from biodiesel production and recycled PET bottles. The bridge in Almere with a span of 15 metres was realised by an international consortium led by Eindhoven University of Technology. The project team consists of five universities, seven innovative companies and three municipalities.

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