Deadline: 17.01.2023

Analysis of variable tree species and natural binding solutions for the development of homegrown UK natural fibre insulation/

The University Of Edinburgh
United Kingdom


The project will develop research on the analysis of natural fibre insulation using fibres obtained through existing Scottish/ UK forests or secondary sources (Sawmills & recycled) and other bio-based sources (Hemp, sisal, etc.).

Project background

The University of Edinburgh, School of Engineering has recently completed studies for Scottish Forestry and Zero Waste Scotland on the feasibility and innovation of home-grown natural fibre insulation (NFI). One of the outcomes was a parametric analysis of existing natural fibre materials, most of which are imported from mainland Europe. Within the recommendations are the research and development of home-grown natural fibre insulation trials and samples that could undergo research and laboratory testing for improved thermal performance. Explorations around the fibres, their origin and type as well as different configurations of fibre content would need to be explored, as well as the adhesives and additives used to create low embodied carbon and environmental products which could replace the use of synthetic insulation equivalents.

Research questions

This research seeks to address three areas, placing it in a Triple Helix approach to find the best suitable natural fibre insulation product that provides thermal performance, lower the embodied carbon of materials and aligns itself with existing Scottish/ UK manufacturing and resourcing capabilities. Four questions emerge:

  1. What waste streams and natural fibre supply chains exist that could form part of the research?
  2. Can the fusion of different fibres, additives or binding materials improve the thermal performance of natural fibre insulation?
  3. Do different natural fibres behave similarly to allow for adequate bonding at different densities?
  4. Can more environmental, less toxic materials be used for bonding and protecting the new fibre configurations?


The project requires methods that evaluate existing natural fibre products and analyse the mechanical bonding properties, fibre size, consistency and reaction of additives. It also requires an understanding of any existing work done in the field and the success rate to enhance the thermal performance to align with built environment performance requirements (Thermal conductance, inertia, embodied carbon, toxicity and humidity buffering, etc.)

The following would be expected:

Work packages (WP) and Milestones (▼M)


WP1: A literature review and industry contacts (8-12 months)

▼M1: Identify recognised gaps in research, methods used and past results and configurations.

▼M2: Contact and meet key industry partners for future collaboration.


WP2: Review of material parameters and performance levels (3 months)

▼M3: Identification of parameters and performance values as well as possible challenges


WP3: Conduct tests of existing materials and products with a wide-ranging fibre type. Includes laboratory-based analysis, thermal conductance, density, heat capacity & inertia, hygroscopicity, etc. (4 months)

▼M4: Agreements on the manufacturing partners and samples needed

▼M5:Peer review paper submitted/ published.


WP4: Development of the fibre type configurations conduct modelled performance scenarios and create samples with industry partners. (6-8 months)

▼M6: Samples and trials created as identified, apply the methodology of testing.

▼M7: In-situ tests of samples used in new and retrofit buildings


WP6: Evaluation of results, comparison and considerations required (2-3 months)

▼M8:  Analysed results with a clear correlation with existing products and innovation


WP7: Conclusions and Writing (6-8 months)

▼M9: Peer review paper published with results and innovation

▼M10: Thesis submission


  • Natural fibre insulation characterisation and performance
  • Bio-based fibre species training
  • Thermal testing training (in-situ & laboratory)


  • Materials science, biology relevant Undergraduate/ Postgraduate candidate
  • Laboratory testing experience with biological and chemical analysis background
  • Preferably with a bio-materials background.
  • Knowledge of tree and plant species for analysis and recognition.


  • Volf M, Diviš J, Havlík F. Thermal, moisture and biological behaviour of natural insulating materials.
    Energy Procedia 2015;78:1599–604.
  • Mohajerani A, Hui SQ, Mirzababaei M, Arulrajah A, Horpibulsuk S, Kadir AA, et al. Amazing types,
    properties, and applications of fibres in construction materials. Materials 2019;12:1–45.
  • Saha P, Chowdhury S, Roy D, Adhikari B, Kim JK, Thomas S. A brief review on the chemical
    modifications of lignocellulosic fibers for durable engineering composites. Polymer Bulletin
  • Lacoste C, el Hage R, Bergeret A, Corn S, Lacroix P. Sodium alginate adhesives as binders in wood
    fibers/textile waste fibers biocomposites for building insulation. Carbohydrate Polymers
  • Muthuraj R, Lacoste C, Lacroix P, Bergeret A. Sustainable thermal insulation biocomposites from
    rice husk, wheat husk, wood fibers and textile waste fibers: Elaboration and performances
    evaluation. Industrial Crops and Products 2019;135:238–45.


Julio Bros-Williamson School of Engineering – Institute for Infrastructure and Environment [email protected]
Giulio Santori School of Engineering – Institute for Materials and Processes [email protected]

E4 supervisors are happy to hear from candidates who would wish to adapt the project to their own ideas and research background.

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