Flax Back on Road to New Prosperity; Old Scots Crop Could Find Modern Roots in Car Industry

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Byline: BILL MOWAT

IT may be mainly used as a covering for dining tables but, if new research by Scottish scientists is successful, linen could soon be adapted for use in the building of cars and commuter trains.

It could lead to a comeback, in a completely new guise, for the once-common crop of flax which provided fibres for one of Scotland's most important traditional industries.

New research has paved the way to the possibility of golden flax growing again in Scotland's fields by early next century.

It would provide the raw material for goods as diverse as car fascias and panels, or seats for trains.

A small group of Scottish and Danish scientists has teamed up with Italian car maker Fiat and Denmark's State Railways to apply for a [pounds sterling]1.2million European Union grant to take research several stages further.

Other private firms and public bodies from Scotland, England, Germany and Sweden are linking up with the team from the Scottish Crops Research Institute, at Invergowrie, near Dundee, in their wide-ranging fresh look at the future for flax.

Scientist Dr Ian Morrison, 56, an Edinburgh graduate who is co-ordinating the initiative with the Danes, believes that flax is an extremely versatile material which could also be moulded into seats for stacking chairs.

Dr Morrison, who heads the institute's Unit for Industrial Crops, says renewed interest in the ancient crop, with the Latin name Linum usitatissimum, is coming from many sources, who realise that it is completely environmentally friendly.

Once a flax-based product has served its useful lifetime it will degrade naturally, unlike the almost indestructible plastics used at present in the motor industry and on public transport.

Dr Morrison, a biochemist, said: `Car-makers throughout the world are searching for `green' products to use in their manufacturing processes. …