Archive for October, 2011

“Weight Loss” with natural fiber

Friday, October 21st, 2011

An interesting article  was passed on to me today, from Doug Evans in our office.  The article originated  from

Karen Laird, wrote a informative article with a fun spin. 

I hope you enjoy the article, as follows: 


Green Matter: Losing weight on a high fiber diet

By Karen Laird
Published: October 20th, 2011

Coconuts, bananas, flax, bamboo and a host of other fibers are today’s newest natural weight loss aids.  For cars, that is. Once relegated to the lunatic eco-fringe, it now looks as if natural fibers are finally getting ready to come into their own as reinforcing materials in composite polymers.

Traditional fiber-reinforced composites produced with reinforcing materials such as glass, carbon fibers, aramid or polyester are the material of choice in the construction, automotive, aerospace, and wind energy industries. However, as the use of composite products steadily rises, composites themselves are increasingly coming under environmental scrutiny. They score sustainability points for vehicle light weighting, but fail abysmally on aspects such as end-of-life solutions and production processes.

Most resin systems are currently petroleum-based, carbon and glass fibers are produced using energy intensive processes, and the possibilities for recycling are limited. Moreover, environmental concerns are increasingly cutting off the traditional disposal routes for production scrap and end-of-life waste – landfill and incineration – and are thus forcing composites companies and their customers to look for more sustainable solutions.


Natural fibers take the stage

Enter natural fiber composites, a hot topic if there ever was one (read our recent coverage of Ford’s use of them more proof). Several days ago, Lucintel published its Natural Fiber Composites Market Trend and Forecast 2011 – 2016, in which the size of the natural fiber composite materials market is predicted to reach up to $531.3 million in 2016, with an 11% compound annual growth rate in the next five years. Driving the market is the burgeoning demand for natural fiber in building and construction, and especially in the automotive industry. The Department of Energy has calculated that the use of natural fibers could greatly reduce vehicle weight, and automotive is expected to remain the largest market through 2016.

The automotive industry initially embraced the use of natural fiber composites for such reasons as price, their ‘green’ image and the possibilities for recycling: by 2015, compliance with the EU End of Life Vehicle Directive, for example, will require 95% reuse, recycling or recovery by weight of end-of-life vehicles. Natural fibers are a renewable natural resource that, at the end of life, can be recycled, especially if used with thermoplastic matrix polymers.

Moreover, fully bio-based composites, containing natural fibers and bio-based polymer matrices, have been under development for several years, and resins from plant origins are being developed which will lead to the development of completely renewable composite materials. Natural fiber composites can be easily converted into thermal energy through combustion for energy recovery and, unlike glass fibers, leave no residue.


Don’t just call me sustainable

Today, natural fiber composites are also starting to be more appreciated for their innate qualities. Natural fiber composite materials have in many cases been found to have a higher stiffness/strength ratio than conventional fiber-reinforced polymers. Not only do these materials provide excellent mechanical properties, but further advantages include lower manufacturing complexity, reduced tooling costs compared to parts made from metal, better corrosion resistance and better internal dampening of noise and vibration.  Research is under way to overcome problems associated with the use of natural fibers such as seasonal quality variations, low thermal stability and low resistance to moisture.


Hemp not just for hippies

Hemp fibers have been used for a number of years by BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and many other automotive manufacturers for interior moldings. Lucintel’s report notes that Tier 1 suppliers to the automotive industry such as Draexlmaier Group and Faurecia supply interior parts made of natural fiber composites including headliners, side and back walls, seat backs, and rear deck trays to GM, Audi, and Volvo, among others.

Flax, hemp and sisal are used in door liners, seatbacks and backseat shelves, while coconut husk fiber, or coir, is used in seat cushions and head restraints. And just last week, Ford announced that, together with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, it was researching the use of coconut coir as fiber reinforcement for molded plastic parts, in line with the company’s efforts to reduce the use of petroleum and make parts that are lighter and more natural-looking.

Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for Plastics Research at Ford, was enthusiastic: “This is a win-win situation. We’re taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles”, she said. “We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy.”


 I thought it was an interesting article, and I hope you enjoyed it.   For additional information regarding natural fiber material, please visit our website at


Natural Fiber Chart

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011
BAST FIBERS –  (Jute, Kenaf, Flax, Hemp, Ramie)      
There are two names for Jute, White Jute and Tossa.
The fibers of Jute (White Jute & Tossa) are relatively finer than those of Kenaf and Roselle (Mesta). 
Jute fibers are strong than Roselle (Mesta) and therefore better in quality.
The major producers of Jute, Kenaf and Roselle fibers are India, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand.     India, Bangladesh and China being the largest producers.
Jute cultivation requires specific climate and land.  It requires early rains in March, May and June and intermittent rain and sunlight thereafter until August, with temperatures between 28  and 35 degrees C, with humidity between 70% and 90%. 
Its common name in English is Kenaf, and in India (Bengal) it’s Mesta.
The outer fiber is called “bast” and comprises roughly 40% of the stalk’s dry weight. The refined bast fibers measure 2.6mm and are similar to the best softwood fibers used to make paper.
The whiter, inner fiber is called “core”, and comprises 60% of the stalk’s dry weight. These refined fibers measure .6mm and are comparable to hardwood tree fibers,
The Kenaf plant is considered one of the most promising alternatives for virgin soft and hard woods.  
Kenaf grows quickly, rising to heights of 12-14 feet in as little as 4 to 5 months.
Kenaf is mainly grown in China, and Indonesia, and was banned in Bangladesh from 1948-1960.  However, Kenaf and Roselle (Mesta) grow almost thoughout the world both in tropical and temperate areas. 
Flax fiber is soft, lustrous and flexible.
Flax is harvested for fiber production after approximately 100 days.
In Europe, the commercially most important plant fiber is still flax,  increasingly obtained from plants cultivated specifically for industrial application.  The culture of hemp has been revitalized in Europe in recent years. Although Hemp provides higher yields and stronger fibers than flax. But because the processing of hemp fiber is not yet sufficiently sophisticated, flax seems to remain the preferred fiber.
Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants known.  Hemp is the name of the soft, durable fiber that is cultivated from plants of the Cannabis genus.
“Hemp” is also a name for the Cannabis plant. Some use it to mean only the low THC strains of the plant, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. Hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, etc.
The world leading producer of Hemp is China, with smaller production in Europe, Chili and North Korea.  
Ramie is one of the oldest fiber crops, having been used for at least six thousand years, and is principally used for fabric production.

Ramie is a bast fiber, and the part used is the bark (Phloem) of the vegetative stalks.

Ramie is normally harvested two to three times a year but under good growing conditions can be harvested up to six times per year.

 Unlike other bast crops, Ramie requires chemical processing to de-gum the fiber.

For further information, visit to learn more about natural fiber composites.


Polypropylene (PP)

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The use of polypropylene (PP) has increased fast because polypropylene and its composites are now an important plastic material used in the automotive industry.   Over recent years polypropylene (PP) has had a role in enabling automotive designers and engineers to improve vehicle technology, as PP is a commonly used thermoplastic binder component for natural fiber composites.  Natural fiber composites are a common application in a vehicle’s door panel, console, headliner, package tray, seat back, trunk liner and many more.

Natural fibers (jute, kenaf, sisal, flax and hemp), combined with polypropylene, are a realistic alternative to glass fiber.   Natural fiber composites have an advantage (over glass fiber), because of their lower density, relatively high toughness, good thermal properties, and excellent environmental performance.      

Please keep in mind that PP requires processing temperatures between 200 (392 degrees F) and 250°C to achieve a sufficient low viscosity.  Determining the parameters for a new production process requires a consideration of both ensuring the general process ability, and avoiding thermal damage of the fiber component on the other.  At FlexForm Technologies we specialize in the manufacturing of natural fiber composite material.    For additional information, please visit our website at


Friday, October 14th, 2011

“What is bast fiber”?

Bast fibers have been grown for centuries throughout the world. Bast plants are characterized by long, strong fiber bundles that comprise the outer portion of the stalk. Bast plants include flax, hemp, kenaf, hemp, ramie, and jute.

The word “bast” refers to the outer portion of the stem of these plants. This stringy, vascular portion comprises 10 – 40% of the mass of the stem depending upon the species of bast plant, as well as the particular variety, or cultivar, within a bast plant. Bast fibers or skin fiber is a plant fiber collected from the phloem (the “inner bark” or the skin) or bast surrounding the stem of certain plants.   

Since the valuable fibers are located in the phloem, they must often be separated from the xylem material (“woody core”), and sometimes also from epidermis.  The process for this is call retting, and can be performed by micro-organisms either on land, in water, or by chemicals (for instance high pH and chelating agents) or by pectinolytic enzymes. More intense retting separates the fiber bundles into elementary fibers that can be several centimeters long. 

Often bast fibers have higher tensile strength than other kinds.  A special property of bast fibers is that they contain a special structure, the fiber node that represents a weak point.  Seed hairs, such as cotton, do not have nodes.

Bast fibers are processed for use in carpet yard, rope, burlap sacks, paper, etc. but more importantly, bast fibers are also used in the non-woven, molding and composite technology industries for the manufacturing of non-woven composites, such as automobile door panels, headliners, seat backs, etc.

Overall Advantages of Bast Plants:

In general, bast plants possess the following benefits:

1. High tensile strength in bast portions, especially in fiber varieties.

2. Bast plants have a relatively low specific gravity of 0.28 – 0.62, yielding an especially high specific strength, i.e. strength to weight ratio.

3. Generally high fiber productivity rates, rivaling and even surpassing that of the most commercial tree species.

4. Potential for even greater productivity, bast portions, and mechanical properties through focused genetic breeding.



Friday, October 14th, 2011

BAST FIBER (Flax, Hemp, Jute, Kenaf) COMPOSITION:

 In general, the bast consists of a wood core surrounded by a stem.  Within the stem there are a number of fiber bundles, each containing individual fiber cells or filaments.  The filaments are made of cellulose and hemicellulose, bonded together by a matrix, which can be lignin or pectin.  The pectin surrounds the bundle thus holding them on to the stem.  The pectin is removed during the retting process.  The lignin is the connecting cement between the individual fiber cells.  Although the lignin builds the bundle, in a composite it will be the weakest link. 

 The volume density of all bast fibers is identical, and structural differences mainly are a result from the chemical content. 

                                                                                                                  Comparative Chemical Composition (%):







62 – 71

16 – 18

2.0 –2.5*

HEMP       67-75

16 – 18

2.9 –3.3*

59 – 71

12 – 13


KENAF (bast)




                                                                                                                                                                         * The higher the lignin percentage, the lower the quality.



Comparative Mechanical/Physical Properties of Bast:



 DENSITY (g/cm3)

 LENGTH (mm)













10 – 65


10 – 25




KENAF (bast)


1.4 – 5


14 – 23




KENAF (core)


0.4 – 1.1


18 – 37






7 – 55


13 – 30






Properties of Natural Fiber, E-Glass, Sisal and Cotton:









 Density g/cm3







Tensile strength* 10E6  N/m2

800 – 1500

550 – 900

400 – 800






With the rise of composite material there is a renewed interest for natural fibers.  Jute is the number one produced natural fiber; twice the sum of flax, kenaf, ramie and hemp.   For many reason they can compete with glass fibers.  Many automotive components are already produced in natural composites, mainly based on polyester or PP and fibers like jute, flax,  or hemp. The adoption of natural fiber composite in this industry is lead by motive of a) price b) weight reduction and c) marketing (Processing renewable resources” ) rathan than technical demands.


What are Geosynthetics?

Friday, October 14th, 2011

According to Wikipedia:  “Geosynthetics is the term used to describe a range of generally polymeric products used to solve civil engineering problems. The term is generally regarded to encompass eight main product categories: geotextiles, geogrids, geonets, geomembranes, geosynthetic clay liners, geofoam, geocells (cellular confinement) and geocomposites.”

This blog’s main focus is natural fiber composites and how that technology relates to the office furniture industry.  Today we are exploring how natural fiber composite technology is trending in other growth industries.  Freedonia conducted a study that concluded “US demand for geosynthetics is projected to advance 6.8 percent annually through 2015. Nonwoven and woven/knit geotextiles will remain the dominant segment and offer good growth prospects, driven by construction and transportation infrastructure markets. Geonets will achieve the fastest gains from a much smaller base.”

At the recent Greenbuild show in Toronto, I saw a number of companies marketing this product segment to the green building community.  From my brief conversations, it seems that geotextiles are most closely related and offer the most possibility for natural fiber technology gainsAgain, from Wikipedia:Geotextiles are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain. Typically made from polypropylene or polyester, geotextile fabrics come in three basic forms: woven (looks like mail bag sacking), needle punched (looks like felt), or heat bonded (looks like ironed felt).”  From first appearances, it seems that most geotextiles are 100% synthetic.   The advantage that natural fiber composites have over pure synthetics can be cost.  If you blend the natural fibers and polymer fiber to create a composite textile, you can reduce cost while retaining physical and mechanical characteristics.

Within geotextiles, the two designations of nonwoven and woven have been described by US Fabrics Inc as:

“Non-woven geotextiles resemble felt and provide planar water flow. They are commonly known as filter fabrics, although woven monofilament geotextiles can also be referred to as filter fabrics. Typical applications for non-woven geotextiles include aggregate drains, asphalt pavement overlays and erosion control.

A woven geotextile is a planar textile structure produced by interlacing two or more sets of strands at right angles. There are two types of strands: slit films, which are flat; and monofilaments, which are round. Woven slit-film geotextiles are generally preferred for applications where high strength properties are needed and filtration requirements are less critical. These fabrics reduce localized shear failure in weak subsoil conditions and aid construction over soft subsoils. Woven monofilament geotextiles are preferred for applications where both strength and filtration are a concern, such as shoreline rip rap applications.”

This is definitely an interesting product category that I will be looking forward to learning more about!





BAST FIBERS: Jute / Hemp / Flax / Kenaf

Friday, October 14th, 2011


Natural fibers have intrinsic properties – mechanical strength, low weight and low cost, that has made them particularly attractive to the automobile industry.  Natural fibers are very ductile and they don’t splinter.  Natural fiber composite material weights about 30% less than traditional wood-based materials.   And, they cost less because they take half as long to make. Car makers are using natural fibers in-press molded thermoplastic panels for door inserts, shelves, seat backs, etc. 

What are Bast fibers?

Fibers are collected from the skin or bast surrounding the stem of their respective plant.  These fibers have higher tensile strength than other fibers.  Some examples are jute, hemp, flax, kenaf as follows:


JUTE (aka Tossa):

  • Tossa Jute (Corchorus clitoris) – Tossa jute fiber is softer, silkier, and stronger than white jute.  Currently, West Bengal, India and Bangladesh are the largest global producer of the tossa jute variety.
  • White Jute (Corchorus capsularis) – History also states that Indians, especially Bengalis, used ropes and twine made of white jute from ancient time for household and other uses.

Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibers and is second only to cotton in the amount produced and variety of uses.  Jute fibers are composed primarily of the plant materials cellulose (major component of plant fiber) and lignin (major components of wood fiber).  It is thus a lingo-cellulosic fiber that is partially a textile fiber and partially wood.

The industrial terms for jute fiber are raw jute.  The fibers are off-white to brown, and are 3-12 feet long.  The suitable climate for growing jute (warm and wet climate) is offered by the monsoon climate during the monsoon season.  Temperatures 68 -104 degrees and relative humidity of 70-80% are favorable for successful cultivation.


HEMP (Cannabis):

The inner two fibers of hemp are woodier and are more often used in non-woven items and other industrial applications.  The fiber is the most valuable part of the hemp plant.  It is commonly called bast, which refers to the fibers that grow on the outside of the woody interior of the plant’s stalk, and under the outer most part (the bark).   Hemp fibers can be between approximately 3 – 15 feet long, running the length of the plant.  Depending on the processing used to remove the fiber from the stem, the hemp may naturally be creamy white, brown, gray, black, or green.

The use of hemp for fiber production has declined sharply over the last two centuries, but before the industrial revolution, hemp was a popular fiber because it is strong and grows quickly; it produces roughly 10% more fiber than cotton or flax, when grown on the same land.

Licenses for hemp cultivation are issued in the European Union, Canada, in all states of Australia and nine states in the U.S.  The world-leading producer of hemp is China, with smaller production in Europe, Chile and North Korea.  Over 30 countries produce industrial hemp, including Austria, Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain.  France is Europe’s biggest producer.  Uruguay has also approved a project of hemp production as of the second half of 2010.


FLAX (aka common flax, or linseed):

Flax is grown both for its seeds and for its fibers.  Flax fiber is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of the flax plant.  Flax fiber is soft, lustrous and flexible; bundles of fiber have the appearance of blonde hair, hence the description “flaxen”.  Flax is harvested for fiber production after approximately 100 days or a month after the plant flowers and two weeks after the seed capsules form.  There are two ways to harvest flax, mechanized equipment (combines), and a second method, more manual and targeted towards maximizing the fiber length.


KENAF (Hibiscus Cannabinus), also known as:

  • Mesta (India, Bengal)
  • Stock Root (South Africa)
  • Java Jute (Indonesia)
  • Ambari (Taiwan)
  • Roselle (Africa)

The fiber in Kenaf is found in the bast (bark) and core (wood).  The bast constitutes 40% of the plant.  Kenaf is cultivated for its fiber in India, Bangladesh, U.S., Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Viet Nam, Thailand, and parts of Africa, and to a small extent in southeast Europe.  Today, principle farming areas are China, India, and it is also grown in many other countries such as the Mexico and Senegal, and the U.S.



The Automotive Market’s Consumption of Composite Materials

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Today, the automotive market is the largest consumer of composite materials, accounting for over 20% of total consumption, according to the JEC Group.  The worldwide average for composites is about 6% of a car’s weight.    In luxury vehicles it is at around 15%, high-end vehicles at 9%, and mid-range vehicles at 6%, and entry-level at 4%.  Between 2010- and 2015 the overall should increase by about 7%.  Beyond 2015, expect a stronger increase of composites in the automotive market, about an additional 9%, as emission regulations continue to increase.   Composites are clearly main stream in the automotive industry. 

We should be seeing a rapid progress in the use of natural fiber composites in China.  While a number of relatively well advanced research programs exist in Europe and Japan, China is still lagging behind a little.  But China has some advantages that will perhaps promptly it to move towards natural fiber composites at a faster rate than other regions – China is the world’s largest producer of hemp and has leadership in the textile processing industry. 

It is predicted that in 2015, almost 1 out of every 2 cars will be produced in Asia (excluding Japan).  China should be producing more cars than North America, Japan and Germany combined. It would make sense that rapid progress should be expected in China, as well as in other more mature world markets.