Technical Product Harvesting

  Growth manipulation of bamboo © Chair of Structures and Structural Design  

Growing Near-Net-Shaped Products From Renewable Material

The calabash gourd (Lagenaria Siceraria) grows into a saddle shape made of biopolymers © Chair of Structures and Structural Design Growth manipulation of calabash

In the interdisciplinary research project "TEPHA - Technical Product Harvesting – near-net-shape products made from renewable materials", researchers from the fields of mechanical engineering, architecture, botany and ecology analyze the potential of a plant-based production of semi-finished products. The project aims at an informed evaluation about structural and ecological potentials of different plant species for their use in technical products. In addition to the identification of suitable organisms for the production of technical products, the research focuses on the growth impact of different plant species and their conversion into usable semi-finished products for applications in architecture and mechanical engineering. A near-net-shape growth of the plant and the application of preloads during the growth phase result in a natural topology optimization, which adapts the organic material to its destined use. At the same time, this approach reduces industrial production steps, which in turn minimizes machine hours, and ultimately, energy. Furthermore, the utilization of grown, natural components has great advantages with respect to the recyclability of products.

Tepha Logo
The database links technical requirements to biological characteristics © Chair of Structures and Structural Design Systematic Database approach

For a holistic assessment of the TEPHA approach, case studies on fast-growing plant species such as bamboo and calabash will be conducted. The case studies are intended to show the potential and limits of the growth manipulation. After completion of the growth process, structural tests and cell analyses are being carried out in order to quantify the effect of the topology optimization on the cell formation as well as the material properties. The case studies are supplemented by a life cycle assessment, in which conventionally produced goods are compared to the bio-based products grown into near-net-shape. The collected data on growth patterns, deformation behavior, material properties and environmental influences are linked in a database in order to facilitate the development of future plant-based product innovations.

The project is funded as a "Boost Fund" by the Exploratory Research Space at RWTH Aachen University with funds from the Excellence Initiative of the federal and state governments in the Institutional Strategy II.