Archive for March, 2012

Natural Fiber Composites vs. Wood

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

The field of composites came into its own in the past 40 years because of two developments: high-performance fibers and high-performance, petroleum-based plastic resins. Then in October 1999, FlexForm Technologies began commercial production of natural-fiber composites at its facility in Elkhart, Indiana. Natural fiber composites, more specifically Kenaf or Tossa are used to make seat backs, packaging trays, door inserts, load floors, pillars, among other items, in vehicle interiors.
Kenaf stalks, which are comparable in strength to carbon or glass, are replacing fiberglass, and polypropylene is replacing liquid resin, which eliminates a lot of the toxic chemicals for workers. The long-fibered kenaf-composite panels are more flexible and shatter-resistant during accidents than fiberglass. As an additional bonus, natural fibers are very ductile and they don’t splinter, so they manage energy well during side impacts, and they weigh about 30 percent less than traditional wood-based materials.

Natural fiber plastic composites are formed when a fiber sheet is heated along with propylene and molded. The now sticky sheet, which forms a stiff panel backing, is then pressed against the door fabric, eliminating the extra step of applying a toxic adhesive. Kenaf fiber mixed with a thermal plastic like polypropylene can be remelted and reused more easily.
Thermoplastic composites can replace wood in many applications. Although the basic material costs may be higher, less material is used, so there is much less waste. Natural Fiber composites can be lower cost and stiffer, and you can mold them, which you can’t do with pure wood, and they’re recyclable. As wood becomes scarcer, and materials like jute and kenaf are plentiful. Kenaf grows fully in seven months, tolerates drought, and does not require extensive herbicides. It grows in regions where cotton and tobacco thrive.

However, for consumers to buy environmental materials, they must be equal or better in performance than traditional products. Consumers will buy environmental materials, but they won’t pay extra for them.

For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.

Ford Uses Kenaf Plant Inside Doors in the All-New Escape, Saving Weight and Energy

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Wall Street Journal  1/26/12

   — Kenaf, a tropical plant related to cotton and okra plants, is being used
      to replace oil-based materials in the doors of the all-new Ford Escape

   — Use of this eco-friendly material is anticipated to offset 300,000 pounds
      of oil-based resin annually in North America

   — Kenaf reduces the weight of the door bolsters by 25 percent and improves
      fuel economy

   — Kenaf is also used in cosmetics and kenaf fiber is an alternative to wood
      to make paper and cardboard; its leaves are edible

Drivers of the all-new Ford Escape may be surprised to find out there is a plant inside the door.

As part of its overall effort to make vehicles more sustainable, Ford is making the material inside the door — known as the bolster — in part from kenaf.

Kenaf is a tropical plant that looks similar to bamboo and is related to cotton. The plant replaces oil-based materials inside the doors of the all-new Ford Escape.

The use of kenaf is anticipated to offset 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin per year in North America; use of this eco-friendly material reduces the weight of the door bolsters by 25 percent. Weight savings translate into fuel savings for drivers.

“Kenaf and the other renewable materials in the Escape have made the vehicle more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient,” said Laura Sinclair, materials engineer for Escape.

Kenaf oil is used in cosmetics and kenaf fiber is used as an alternative to wood in the production of paper. The upper leaves and shoots of the plant are edible.

The kenaf is combined with polypropylene in a 50-50 mixture inside the door of the Escape. International Automotive Components (IAC) manufactures the door bolsters in Greencastle, Ind.

Kenaf part of a greener Escape

The new Escape, which will be available to customers this spring, features several eco-friendly components in addition to the kenaf inside the doors.

Materials that are recycled, renewable, and that reduce impact on the environment include soy foam in the seats and head restraints; plastic bottles and other post-consumer and post-industrial materials in the carpeting; climate control gaskets made from recycled tires; and more than 10 pounds of scrap cotton from the making of denim jeans.

Wide use of more environmentally friendly, recycled and recyclable materials complements the projected best-in-class fuel economy of the all-new Ford Escape, further boosting the vehicle’s environmentally responsible credentials. The new Escape meets the USCAR Vehicle Recycling Partnership goal that 85 percent of the vehicle is recyclable.


The natural fiber door bolster substrate material is supplied by FlexForm Technologies, in Elkhart, Indiana.

To learn more about composites, contact FlexForm Technologies at


Leafy Greens Inside Your Door

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

In an effort to make Ford vehicles more sustainable and eco-friendly, engineers at Ford decided to build the doors out of plants! Yes you heard me right… organic plants. The material used in the creation of the doors is called bolster and is made in part from kenaf, a tropical plant.” The use of kenaf is anticipated to offset 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin per year in North America, and the use of such material reduces the weight of the door bolsters by at least 25 percent, which translates into fuel savings for drivers,” reports Ford. The door bolsters are made by international Automotive Components in Greencastle, Indiana and are made from a 50/50 mixture of kenaf and polypropylene. This leafy green doors are just one of the many environmentally friendly materials widely used in the all new 2013 Ford Escape available this spring.

The Escape door bolster material comes from FlexForm Technologies.

To learn more about composites, contact FlexForm Technologies at