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