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Sustainable Technology In Nettle Growing - STING - LK0820

This is a collaborative research project with two research partners and five full manufacturing/growing partners.

There are four main areas:

a) the study of U. dioica physiology, physical and chemical characterisation.

b) Investigation of mechanical properties of the straw and how to optimally process/prepare the straw for decortication/fibre extraction by natural retting, chemical or, preferably, enzyme-based bio-preparation methods.

c) Studies of agronomic experiments will be used to evaluate wild UK types of Urtica dioica and compare these with clones (from earlier EC research) selected for their high fibre content and provide raw material for UK bast fibre processors. Objective methods will be used to characterise the plant physiology and chemistry and follow the progress of experimentation into a range of mechanical and chemical (primarily enzyme-based) processes aimed at improving the ease of fibre extraction, the yield and fibre 'quality'. The potential for UK production of U. dioica as a sustainable supply of novel fibre will be investigated both fundamentally (by research base partners) and in more practical terms (by industry partners). The agronomic issues in the fibre supply chain will be assessed in practical, technical, economic and environmental impact terms.

Initially, straw from Germany will be used for experimental and industrial processing investigations. UK genetic material will be collected and characterised in terms of fundamental characteristics, including DNA analysis. UK material showing promise in terms of fibre content and quality will be multiplied in small plots.

Investigation of the process of fibre extraction will assess the impacts of different decortication techniques and secondary processing to identify optimum strategies for nettle fibre extraction in order to produce nettle fibres with appropriate characters of length, strength, fineness, dust content, etc., appropriate for yarn production.

End-user evaluation of properties, quality and performance will be undertaken by partners.
1. To investigate the characteristics of selected UK wild types and European high-fibre clones of U. dioica and to ascertain potential for UK fibre productiion.

2. To improve the understanding of U. dioica physiology to support the optimisation of U. dioica cultivation, fibre production, extraction and bio-treatments.

3. To investigate mechanical, chemical and bio-processing as factors which influence the properties and yield of fibre extracted from nettle straw. Techniques of physical and chemical characterisation used for other 'bast' fibres will be utilised along with novel methods for estimating the micro mechanics of fibre extraction.

4. To establish the principles upon which improved fibre extraction technology can be designed and to test the outcomes using laboratory and industrial process prototypes.

5. To investigate secondary fibre processing (to improve fibre quality for specific end uses) by bio-finishing with enzymes.

6. To investigate the impacts of U. dioica production on farmland biodiversity as a step towards assessing the likely environmental and economic impacts associated with expansion of nettle-fibre cropping in the UK.

7. To evaluate the practical outcomes using independent industrial partners
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2004

To: 2008

Cost: £472,523
Contractor / Funded Organisations
T W Strout & Sons, University - De Montfort, TN & AM Scarratt, Central Science Laboratory, Fibre Developments Ltd, Springdale Crop Synergies, CAMIRA
Arable Farming              
Fields of Study
Non-Food Crops