But how is it possible to recover the balsa wood from the rotor blade — after all, it is firmly bonded to the glass-fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) of the outer shell? First, the wood is separated from the composite material in an impact mill. The density differences can be used to split the mixed-material structures into their individual components using a wind sifter. The balsa wood fibers, which are available as chips and fragments, are then finely ground. "We need this very fine starting material to produce wood foam. Fraunhofer WKI has a patented technology for this," explains the researcher. In this process, the wood particles are suspended to form a kind of cake batter and processed into a light yet firm wood foam that holds together thanks to the wood’s own binding forces. The addition of adhesive is not required. The density and strength of the foam can be adjusted. "This is important because the density should not be too high. Otherwise, the stand-up paddle board would be too heavy to transport."
Since the entire sandwich material used in conventional boards is to be completely replaced, the shell of the ecological board is also made from one hundred percent bio-based polymer. It is reinforced with flax fibers grown in Europe, which are characterized by very good mechanical properties. To pull the shell over the balsa wood core, Pöhler and his team use the hand lay-up and vacuum infusion processes. Feasibility studies are still underway to determine the optimal method. The first demonstrator of the ecological board should be available by the end of 2022. "In the interests of environmental protection and resource conservation, we want to use natural fibers and bio-based polymers wherever it is technically possible. In many places, GFRP is used even though a bio-based counterpart could do the same," Pöhler sums up.
Initially, the researchers are focusing on stand-up paddle boards. However, the hybrid material is also suitable for all other boards, such as skateboards. The future range of applications is broad: For example, it could be used as a facade element in the thermal insulation of buildings. The technology can also be used in the construction of vehicles, ships and trains.