The world’s first fully biocomposite footbridge has been installed at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in The Netherlands. An existing bridge has been moved to make space for the “biobridge” and the bridge builders have permission to leave it in place for a year.

The bridge was a collaboration among students from TU/e and the Eindhoven region’s vocational colleges. According to TU/e researcher and project leader Rijk Blok, there have been previous construction projects with biomaterials, but this is the first time bearing structures have been made entirely of biomaterials.

The biocomposite combines hemp and flax fibers with a biological PLA foam (polylactic acid) core. A bioresin was sucked into the fiber layers using a vacuum, which TU/e says produced a very strong girder when hardened.

Blok hopes that this bridge will show the potential of biocomposite as a sustainable alternative for existing environmentally harmful construction materials.

“Using biocomposite in constructions reduces our dependence on finite fossil resources and brings us a step closer to the circular economy in which products and resources are reused,” said Blok. “In time, I expect that we will see more of these materials in our buildings.”

Another project leader, Patrick Teuffel, says the bridge is expected to have a lifespan of two years at the very least, but that it may be difficult to estimate beyond that. To help provide insight on how the bridge performers, 28 sensors have been embedded in the bridge that will be used to measure strain and bending. This data will be relayed to the project team in real-time and data on factors like temperature, moisture and UV light exposure will also be monitored.