Rooted in Normandy soil, inside the oblong zone which, from Caen to Amsterdam, concentrates 90% of the world production of flax fibre, Terre de Lin (40,000 t./year) is still the world leader in this market, strongly oriented towards textile application. The gradual integration of technical plant fibres in materials, and especially in composites, offers the flax sector opportunities for expanding the activity that this cooperative has been exploring for the past ten years, in conjunction with partner companies. Its name and its know-how are thus associated with notable industrial successes in skiing, audio systems, furniture design and boating.
Created in the early 2000s by a merger of a number of cooperatives, Terre de Lin is the product of a long agro-industrial history that began 80 years ago from the cultivation of a plant as old as the world: flax. Its leadership position has been built over time through appropriate developments that have enabled it to acquire control of all the upstream stages of the flax sector, from obtaining varieties and seed production to R&D and the production of reinforcements, including scutching and combing. “This is what makes us unique and is the basis of our success. Being a cooperative has been an asset, says Laurent Cazenave, in charge of communications. Our commitments and our investments are part of a long-term vision, the aim of which remains the sustainable development of the production of our 650 farmers. The fair mode of governance, the human dimension of the company, which promotes closeness between the members and the 250 employees and provides real stability in management, are a force for long-term development.”
A need for diversification
One of the recent strategic developments was initiated in 2008 in response to the global financial crisis. As the textile market was deeply affected, Terre de Lin set out to find ways to diversify. Its interest was in composite materials to which flax fibre could provide complementary properties. Proceeding in this direction, in 2009 the cooperative became affiliated with the Norman flax and composite players within the Fimalin cluster to advance its market research and product development. The takeover in 2015 of the company Biorenfort, which became the composite division of Terre de Lin under the name TDL Technique, marked a decisive step, outlining real prospects for this early activity.
A fibre that has arguments
The same varieties of flax, the same cultivation methods are used for textiles and composites. It’s the selection and preparation that makes the difference. “We are looking for fibres that have suitable mechanical characteristics and we prepare reinforcements from fibres that are not twisted but parallelized. The low mechanical stresses to which they are subjected during preparation preserve the integrity of the fibre. “Flax fibres are well placed compared to glass and carbon fibres thanks to their lightness, their vibration management (shock absorption, sound and thermal insulation, resistance, longevity) but also their aesthetic appearance. To these properties are added the qualities specific to natural fibres and to flax in particular: ease of use for operators, an eco-responsible value (sustainable cultivation, long rotation, recovery of all co-products, recyclability, etc. ), full qualitative traceability, the possibility of production entirely located in France. “In most projects, notes Laurent Cazenave, the primary requirement is an alliance between the environmental aspect and the technical response that we will be able to provide.”
As a member of IAR, Terre de Lin develops its solutions within the framework of long-term partnerships. Such as the one engaged with Salomon about ten years ago that inspired a composite product in carbon fibre (for rigidity) and flax fibre (for vibration management), which the Haute-Savoie company has initially integrated into a specific ski application before extending it to its entire range. The reinforcements developed for the Focal brand are found in the speaker membrane, providing purity of sound and reducing crackling. For the record, they notably equip the Alpine Renault produced in Dieppe. In another area, the collaboration between SAINTLUC, TDL Technique and Sotiwell has made possible the production of several design and ecological pieces of furniture in which flax is incorporated by the processor for the first time, and demonstrates its unique aesthetic qualities. Aesthetics, combined with the ability to withstand shocks, also revitalised the EGIDE brand, which adopted flax fibre for its bicycle and riding helmets. “These partnerships are the source of real industrial successes. We find the same elements each time: our expertise as a producer of fibre, designer and producer of reinforcements and our ability to support the entire chain of the composite project in which flax is integrated”, indicates Laurent Cazenave.
A communication effort
The application of flax fibre in composites is recent, barely extending over the past ten years. Today, any sector that uses these materials is potentially a development market for flax. With such a wide field of application, we can predict a lasting impact into the future. Better communication is a prerequisite so that the technical capabilities differentiating it from glass fibre or carbon fibre, its compatibility with the implementation processes used by the composites sector and its acceptable cost levels are better known to purchasers. Promotional work is being undertaken by the European Flax and Hemp Confederation, to which Terre de Lin contributes by providing demonstrator evidence. The 100% linen boat launched in 2020 by IDB Marine in partnership with the Kaïros incubator and TDL Technique contains flax -based reinforcements fully meeting the required specifications in terms of resistance, lightness and environmental footprint.
The decisive techno-economic aspect
“The technical and economic aspect was decisive: the additional cost compared to another composite fibre was very low in the design of the IDB Marine boat. This shows that we have solutions in line with the expectations of well-targeted market segments. Another illustration of this winning combination: a BMC flax-based composite supplied by TDL Technique to the IDI company on behalf of Mecelec, which uses it in the dome of the new Morris columns installed in Paris by JC Decaux. This product, as part of the Jec Innovation Awards, won the 2020 prize for best innovation in the Design and Furniture category. Through the successes achieved, the growing interest of principals is noticeable. While Terre de Lin’s primary market remains textiles, “by far”, the share of fibres dedicated to composites in Terre de Lin’s overall activity should continue to grow. Guided by its long-term vision, the cooperative is preparing for it.