Press release

Rational production using sustainable materials:
Fraunhofer WKI and HBK Braunschweig exhibit lightweight structures at LIGNA 2019

Braunschweig /

At LIGNA 2019, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut WKI and designers from the Institut für Design-forschung (Institute for Design Research, IDF) at the Braunschweig University of Art will be presenting the results of their cooperation project. At LIGNA, examples of rational production from the boatbuilding and bicycle industries can be seen. With its particularly lightweight materials on the basis of renewable raw materials, the Fraunhofer WKI is addressing the mobility sector.

© HBK Braunschweig | Samuel Zonon
Cross-section of a pedal-boat with pedelec drive

How can sustainable materials and construction methods be applied in lightweight construction? Can the ecological footprint be reduced in boatbuilding? How can proven boatbuilding methods be transferred to other sectors? Do the new materials fulfill the structural, processing and cost requirements? These and other questions were addressed in detail by researchers and designers within a cooperation project carried out by the Fraunhofer WKI and the IDF. The objective of the cooperation is a re-thinking of innovation processes.

“Through alternative approaches from the field of design, we obtain interesting solution possibilities for industrial and social applications. We have provided the materials and the expertise acquired through research performed by the Fraunhofer WKI. In return, we have received important feedback from the designers from the IDF at the HBK Braunschweig regarding their practical application which, in turn, will be incorporated into future research projects,” explains Dr. Dirk Berthold from the Fraunhofer WKI. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Glatzel, project partner from the IDF at the HBK Braunschweig, adds: “The number of manufacturers addressing the topic of sustainably produced materials is increasing constantly. The cooperation project fulfills the increased demand for practical testing. We want to provide a contribution towards solving the conflict between the high costs of utilizing sustainable materials and rational production.“

Exhibition objects for the boatbuilding and bicycle industries

New and exemplary is the consistent use of sustainably produced, CO2-storing materials in a lightweight structure designed for automated production. Wood veneer, plywood board, flax fiber, cork, and epoxy resin made from vegetable oils are hereby utilized. Petroleum products can be found solely in the hardener for the resin as well as in individual production-related auxiliary materials. Compared to the customary construction method using solid board material or solid form-glued plywood, this light and stiff sandwich structure reduces the quantity of material used and thereby also the mass of the components. The assembly of the initially flat modules in a curved negative mold through lamination by means of vacuum infusion leads to a high manufacturing quality.

In the exhibited hull cross-section of a pedal-boat (scale 1:2) with pedelec drive, the load on the hull structure is relatively low in comparison to bigger boats. Due to smaller wall thicknesses, the hull can therefore be constructed with a considerably lighter weight and increased resource efficiency. Instead of an industrially produced plywood, two thin veneer layers, offset at an angle of 90 degrees and with a total thickness of 1.6 mm, are used as the outer top layer. For the sandwich core, a foam made from recycled PET bottles is used. The inner top layer consists of a layer of flax-fiber laminate.

For the rear section of a pedelec delivery bicycle with rear wheel mount, bottom bracket bearing, seat tube, steering tube bearing and mounting flange for the cargo area with front wheel, sustainably produced, CO2-storing materials are utilized in the load-bearing structure.

The results of the cooperation project demonstrate that the utilization of sustainably produced, CO2-storing materials such as wood veneer, flax fibers, cork, and epoxy resin made from vegetable oils is indeed possible in a lightweight structure designed for automated production.

The Fraunhofer WKI advocates - not only in this project - the dialogue between science, art and design. This exchange enables the introduction of new perspectives into research processes. Positive structural and sustainable material properties are thereby illustrated with the help of art and design, whilst research services are made more tangibly accessible to customers and the interested public. The Fraunhofer WKI is therefore also a member of the Fraunhofer Network “Science, Art and Design” and participates in the Network's program “Artist in The Lab”.



Sustainability through the utilization of renewable raw materials has formed the focus at the Fraunhofer WKI for more than 70 years. The institute, with locations in Braunschweig, Hanover and Wolfsburg, specializes in process engineering, natural-fiber composites, wood and emission protection, quality assurance of wood products, material and product testing, recycling procedures and the utilization of organic building materials and wood in construction. Virtually all the procedures and materials resulting from the research activities are ap-plied industrially.

The Institute for Design Research at the Braunschweig University of Art (HBK) combines the disciplines of design, engineering and sociology in order to research and develop transformation processes in the fields of sustainability, mobility, urban development and digitization. Research-oriented teaching and learning integrates students into the research work and ensures a high degree of practical orientation.

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