Flax – Increasing its Value for Society

  • Mikhalovsky, Sergey (CoPI)
  • Farrer, Joan (CoI)
  • Bowyer, Cressida (CoI)
  • Watt, Carolyn (CoI)
  • Allan, Iain (CoI)
  • Mikhalovska, Lyuba (CoI)
  • Cragg, Peter (PI)

Project Details


The project Flax - Increasing its value for society [Le lin – augmenter sa valeur pour la société] aimed primarily to increase the production value of flax, at the same time building partnerships for cross-border economic development and centres of excellence. It also identified and supported common and complementary centres or ‘poles’ of business and research excellence.

The European funded INTERREG IVA FLAX programme was led by the University of Brighton, where research chemist Professor Sergey Mikhalovsky collaborated with design researcher Dr Joan Farrer. The research brought together two regional research centres of excellence in materials (Le Havre University ) and biomaterials and food processing (University of Brighton), and an SME, who is a leading expert in manufacturing flax and flax-based products (Linière de Bosc Nouvel S.A., LBN, Seine-Maritime). The Partnership also worked closely with an advanced packaging company, Anglo Packaging Ltd based in West Sussex.

Flax fibre is an attractive material for a number of reasons: it is mechanically strong, biodegradable and produced from a renewable resource. Flax has high content of poly-unsaturated fats, which are beneficial for health; regular use of such natural substances in a diet reduces level of cholesterol in blood and risk of coronary artery disease. Applications of flax were fairly limited, mostly because alternative natural fibres such as cotton, silk and jute, imported from overseas, and synthetic fibres that were used.

Flax fibre accounted for only 0.7% of the world’s fibre production. However, concerns for environmental pollution and global climate change had imposed significant pressure on industry and society as a whole to reduce environmental impact of human activity, in particular, carbon footprint and minimise waste generation in all types of activities, including production and use of materials. It is expected that the use of advanced composite materials based on locally grown flax will make a substantial contribution towards solving this problem.

Aims of the Flax project

The main aim of the project was to increase the production value of flax through exploring its potential use:

> In biomedical applications (such as a biomedical material in wound care)
> As a foodstuff
> As a biodegradable material for packaging, including food packaging

In parallel with this aim, the project team looked at innovative ways in which to minimise waste production and reduce carbon footprint in the production of flax-based products. To this end an environmental impact assessment of replacing currently used packaging materials by flax-based materials was undertaken.

The project resulted in a virtual cross-border centre of excellence with a joint programme of research and development in the field of the exploration of innovative uses and applications for linen flax.

To achieve these objectives, flax fibre and composite flax-based materials were environmentally- friendly-produced and their mechanical, physical, structural, physicochemical and chemical properties were characterised using advanced techniques and facilities available at the academic partners of the consortium.

Project Objectives

The primary objective of this project was to create a virtual cross-border centre of excellence with a joint programme of research and development in the field of the exploration of innovative uses and applications for linen flax.

Areas of research included investigation into the use of flax and flax-based composites as packaging materials; as biomedical materials for wound and patient care; as tissue scaffolds for regenerative medicine; and as a food source for healthy diet.

Key findings

The research developed understanding of the potential of fax in wound dressings, packaging, biomedical gels and foodstuffs.

Products across these areas were shown to outperform existing products available in the market.

> Flax fibre wool shown as an alternative to replace cotton wool in wound care and general patient care.

Due to its superior mechanical and structural properties flax wool is expected to be more durable and able to absorb more wound excudate than the conventional cotton wool. Presence of linseed oil in the fibres will add anti-bacterial properties to the flax wool thus protecting wounds from infection.

Woven and non-woven flax-based materials were shown to provide more comfort for chronic patients requireing long stay in hospitals

Flax based tissue scaffolds offer exciting opportunities for regenerative medicine. They uniquely combine excellent mechanical properties and biodegradability which can be controlled by surface modification of the fibres.

> The nutrition value of flax components was assessed in order to develop food supplements for high polyunsaturated fat content for healthy diets as well as novel packaging materials for ready-to-eat meals.

Cold-pressed flax seed oil and ground flax seed have anti-oxidant effects with a potential to protect cells from the free-radicals generated through metabolic processes. Flax has an exceptionally high lignan content, the principle one being SDG. The project revealed encouraging data demonstrating the inhibition of autophagy in Hela (tumour) cells in vitro, by SDG.

Dr Flavia Fucassi and Dr Peter Cragg used mass spectrometry to elucidate binding constants for SDG against target metals. The findings indicated that dietary flax SDG could have sufficient metal affinity properties for extracting accumulated toxic heavy metals from the body.

> One branch of the project evaluated the potential of the flax plant for biomedical use based on the gel-like mucilage the seeds produce. Mucilage possesses a plethora of charged moieties within its structure which makes it a good candidate for loading with chemotherapeutic drugs, which can be slowly released at an appropriate target site within the body. Dr Iain Allan focused his research on the creation of mechanically stable mucilage hydrogels and cryogens for this purpose.

The project team also exchanged best practice and knowledge on the optimum growing conditions for flax. The temperate coastal region of South East of England has very similar climatic conditions to the North of France, which are beneficial for growing flax and make France the lead flax manufacturing country in Europe.

An environmental impact assessment of replacing currently used packaging materials by flax-based materials was undertaken and it was envisaged that replacing synthetic packaging materials produced from non-renewable resources and replacing alternative natural fibre materials imported from overseas would significantly reduce environmental impact and carbon footprint of packaging.
Effective start/end date1/01/1230/06/15


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