Advanced Fibers


Fibers represent a remarkably old and abundant material form.  In fact, fibers are important in our individual life, starting from the first day, and, they have profoundly influenced the development of humanity for many thousands of years. Today, the development of fibers with special properties represents a driver of industrial innovation, particularly in high-spec applications. It is our goal to contribute to the research for safer and more sustainable fiber in our living environment.

Advanced fibers wanted

We appreciate the many requests from industry regarding fibers with new properties, particularly in the area of sustainability. The fundamentally driven development of advanced fibers like the continuous fluid-core fiber can find many innovative applications and stimulate the added value chain. The close collaboration with scientific peers in different fields allows us to address complex problems that comprise different aspects of materials, society, environment or medicine . This unique combination can generate significant added value for our research partners and open access to otherwise inaccessible markets [movie: Rheocore Fiber and fiber spinning].

Understanding synthetic fibers inside-out

Due to their importance, we focus mainly on the development of novel synthetic fibers. This focus is economically relevant since two thirds of world-wide produced fibers are synthetic. A synthetic fiber is much more than a simple polymer thread; the performance determining factor of a fiber lies within its molecular structure. Inside there are small crystals, which tie together the polymer molecules; and there are more amorphous regions in a fiber; the interplay between these domains directly determines the fiber flexibility and tensile strength. Along these lines, we analyze and modify the fiber structure on nanometer to micrometer scales using cutting edge analytical tools, and, by controlling the melt-spinning process in new ways. Mastering the interplay of materials science and processing is key.

Interacting with the surface
Many relevant material properties are determined by its surface. Particularly significant is it for interfacing aqueous or humid environments. We have the means to study such interactions in great detail and derive innovative strategies to modify the specific surface behavior. Not only can we modify the surface properties themselves, but also the properties some nanometers below the surface. Besides wet-chemical coatings, we explore low-pressure plasma technologies in combination with customized molecules that allow us to obtain very high quality functional films. The thickness of such films can range from nanometers to micrometers.
About bond making and bond breaking

Profound understanding of chemical bond making and bond breaking is required to synthesize new functional molecules. We focus on “green” and economical synthesis routes as well as the understanding of how molecules disintegrate at the end of the material lifetime. The latter aspect includes ageing or physical disintegration by heat or radiation. In this area we make use of highly modern analytics tools including synchrotron radiation at the VUV beamline of the Paul Scherrer Instittute (PSI). Having this know-how at hand, we are able to tailor interesting properties like corrosion resistance, chemical stability, flame retardency or biological functionality.

The possibility to synthesize customized molecules allows us to finally provide industry partners with exclusivities based on strong substance  patents for commercial exploitation. This is an invaluable asset that helps carry new substances through legal admission procedures like the REACH registration—thus making them available to a range of application areas.

Together with industry

We have experience running collaborative projects with industry, where we can adopt different models for collaboration, ranging from bilateral to national to international schemes. The typical goal of such collaboration is to generate innovation in the form of intellectual property in the business area of the industry partner, which adds to global competitiveness or allows market expansion. Often industry partners obtain exclusivities for their business area of the project partner. If a development or part of it becomes useful in another field of application, this can synergistically help market introduction, e.g. cost splitting for REACH registration.

Pre-competitive research
In order to maintain a high level of excellence and gain research results that are useful for future (5-10 years) industry transfers, we are constantly performing fundamental research at internationally highly recognized level even before collaboration with any industry partners is established. For this line of pre-competitive and fundamental research activity we preferably collaborate with public funding agencies, national or international. We are fostering scientific excellence and publish in high ranking international scientific journals. We host a number of PhD students who obtain their degree in framework of projects at Empa. Besides collaboration with different universities in Europe and the USA, we closely collaborate with the ETH.  We can host industry-sponsored thesis projects..

Prof. Dr Manfred Heuberger
Head of Advanced Fibers
Phone +41 58 765 78 78


Movie of our lab Advanced Fibers

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  • Facile strategy to flame retard epoxy resins

    In this work, we have combined silica nano-composites and an Empa developed non-toxic gas phase active flame retardant to improve the fire performance of epoxy material cured with an aliphatic hardener. Flame retardation of such epoxy resins are very challenging. however, our approach enabled us to obtain non-dripping V0 rating in UL 94 test (highest classification).

  • Do we understand how PO2 radicals are formed from organophosphorus compounds?

    PO2 radicals are considered very important in flame inhibition process and fuel catalysis in aircrafts however, chemical pathways leading to their actual formation is not clear. In our recently published work, we have via experimental data and simulations identified key phosphorus intermediates and their reaction pathways which lead to the formation of PO2 radicals.

  • Origin and destiny of micro plastic fibers

    We have participated in an Empa study of B. Nowak and in an Eawag study of D. Mitrano, which assess the origins of micro plastic fibers released during the textile washing process, as well as their fate in a wastewater treatment plant. The remarkable result shows that a large portion of wash-released fibers are already produced and embedded in the textile during the production process. It was also shown that most of the released micro plastic fibers are retained in a wastewater treatment plant.
    Schmiedgruber, M., R., et al.
    Frehland, S., et al.
    Cai, Y., et al.
    Cai, Y., et al.

  • The Plasma & Coating group actively participates in the recently founded R2RNet network:
    21 European partners from industry, research organizations and universities are pooling their expertise in the continuous functionalization of surfaces in the roll-to-roll process. Our knowledge on upscaling of plasma processing as well as the available pilot-plant reactors are highly regarded to enable transfer to industry.

  • We developed luminescent melt-spun fibers, which can enhance the performance of solar cells. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we analyzed the impact of dye solubility in polymer melts on the resulting optical properties.