Übersicht zu den Forschungsthemen der LaNDER3-Partnerschaft an der HSZG

It would be a mistake to believe that innovations are only made at major universities. With LaNDER3 we want to demonstrate that we do science that is visionary. This interdiciplinary large-scale project has a pioneering spirit of research.

Sabrina Winter, EINBLICK University magazine, issue 02/2017

But what do we do? LaNDER3 is a German acronym formed from: Lausitzer Naturfaserverbundwerkstoffe, Dezentrale Energie, Rohstoffe, Ressourcen, Recycling-- Lusatian Natural Fibre Composites, Decentralized Energy, Raw Materials, Resources, Recycling. The underlying idea is to utilize natural fibres from regional plants, e.g. nettles, flax or green waste. We optimize their fibres and combine them with plastics to produce new fibre composites. These materials offer a range of benefits: They have a low density (a valued quality in lightweight design). They are inexpensive, as their fibre components grow in nature. This opens up an almost unlimited number of applications.

LaNDER³ project manager Matthias Kinne names a few of them: “You can find natural fibre composites in car doors, as they are good acoustic dampers. They are also suitable for skis, safety helmets or violin cases. Natural fibre composites are very useful whenever you need a material that can withstand mechanical stress.” As a biotechnologist, Matthias Kinne is familiar with the relevant fields. As project manager, he keeps an eye on the contents, makes sure that deadlines are met, and that all circumstances are appropriate for the research team.

One of LaNDER³'s major objectives is the manufacture of products that can be recycled without leaving behind residues that are difficult to handle. Suppose the natural fibre composite (NFC) is in the door of a car with a service life of 10 years. What happens with the material after that? It should be possible to dismantle the door into its original materials in order to use them again. The energy and the materials required for production share the same principle: Both are used efficiently and are for the most part recycled. Energy should be recovered from waste generated during the manufacturing process.

This large-scale project is therefore developing a decentralized closed material and energy cycle, which is one of the project’s main innovations. It is undoubtedly also one of the reasons why LaNDER³ receives funds from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). HSZG successfully competed against 81 other candidates and is the only University in East Germany receiving these project funds. Project manager Matthias Kinne sees LaNDER3 as a flagship project: “We want to inspire young people and show them what is possible in Zittau.”

Involved in LaNDER³ are the faculties of Mechanical Engineering, Natural and Environmental Sciences, and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who cooperate with external partners. Professor Jens Weber acts as liaison between them and is the spokesmen for the entire partnership. As such he communicates with companies and scientific institutes who collaborate in the LaNDER³ project, eg: ULT AG, BASF Schwarzheide, KSO-Textil, RTT and RCS GmbH. Zittau is also home to Frauenhofer IWU’s Oberlausitzer Kunststoffzentrum, the institute’s plastics centre in Upper Lusatia, which shares a lot of ‘know-how’ in both directions. “This provides us with a large pool of additional scientific expertise” explains Matthias Kinne. And since our region is home to many small- and medium-sized companies, HSZG has brought these on board too. Also rewarded by the BMBF is the University’s commitment to using the funding to make a regional impact. As interest grows from all sides, we have also been receiving requests for cooperation from abroad.

Ultimately, the university gives regional companies a technological edge by researching natural fibre composites and their innovation potential. This will strengthen economic growth in Upper Lusatia and bring a competitive advantage over other locations in Germany.

The advantage of the LaNDER³ project is that the German government can provide funds for up to eight years. “Funds are often given for two or three years only. It is indeed difficult to develop a marketable product on such short notice”, explains Matthias Kinne. A period of eight years, however, is a realistic term to develop innovative products and publish the underlying research results. LaNDER³ is currently in its four-year build-up phase. After that, HSZG can and will apply for another four-year funding period.

Being the large-scale endeavour it is, LaNDER³ has been preliminarily divided into three master projects: two impulse projects and one exploratory project. Our exploratory project is designed to find out the best way to modify derived fibres prior to their integration into a composite material, in order to ensure the composite holds together. This subproject is supervised by Jens Weber, partnership spokesman and professor of physical chemistry. The impulse project 2 is focused on determining how new-design NFC parts can be moulded and refined in a way that is energy-efficient and that makes them ready for the digital age. Sebastian Scholz, professor for function-integrating polymer technologies, has assumed leadership in this subproject.

HSZG uses this project to improve its research profile. To date, “Energy and the Environment” and “Materials-Structure-Surfaces” have been two of the University’s focal research areas with only few points of contact. Now they can be combined and intensified.