Lignocellulose provides structure to the cell walls of all trees and woody plants. It consists of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. The paper industry uses cellulose to produce paper and pulp. Lignin is created as a waste product of this process and is currently primarily thermally utilized, i.e. incinerated. There is, however, great potential for higher-value usage, as lignin already contains aromatic structures. It is therefore suitable as a basic building block for chemical products such as paints, adhesives, plastics and synthetic fibers. From a chemical perspective, lignin is therefore an untapped treasure. Through the utilization of lignin, large quantities of petrochemical raw materials could be saved.
The utilization of lignin is, however, not trivial, as the “junctions” and the “form” of lignin differ greatly from those of petrochemical raw materials. Lignin can be envisaged as a piece of a puzzle that does not fit anywhere. The challenge thereby is to find applications for which the special structure of lignin provides a benefit. The collaboration with the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin addresses precisely this issue. Designers, by nature, think outside the box and can enrich development processes through their unconventional viewpoint and approach. They are trained to find concrete and functional solutions with the help of creative techniques. Together, we identify suitable applications for lignin and implement these in prototypes. Furthermore, we develop a suitable communication strategy in order to provide both experts and the public with a better understanding. In doing so, we hope to pave the way for an increased utilization of lignin in chemical products.
At the same time, the project serves us as a model project for the combination of science, art and design. By means of the concrete research and development work on the subject of lignin, we are able to develop new concepts for establishing contacts and fruitful exchange between researchers, artists and designers. In this way, a sustainable collaboration should emerge which can be continued in other projects.
The project is financed by the Fraunhofer Network “Science, Art and Design”, which was founded in 2018. The Network promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and the application of artistic methods in science. The mutual inspiration opens up perspectives on unusual research approaches for mastering complex social challenges.