Natural Fiber Composites a substitute for glass fiber?

Why is there a renewed interest in the natural fiber composites, especially as a substitute for fiberglass in automotive applications?

First of all, what are natural fiber composites? Natural fiber composites (NFC) are formulated from a blend of natural fibers such as kenaf, hemp, flax, jute and sisal and thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene and polyesters.

What are fiberglass composites? Glass-fiber reinforced polymer (GRFP) composites, commonly referred to as fiberglass, are long or short glass fibers reinforced with a resin such as polypropylene and are involved in a direct injection molding process, giving them an average glass level from 20-60%.

How are they both used in the automotive/transportation industry? They are used in the automotive industry as a composite material for seat backs, arm rests, door panels, sunshades, package trays, headliners, pillar covers and trunk truck applications, just to name a few.
Why the renewed interest in natural fiber composites over fiberglass in the automotive industry? The renewed interest in natural fiber composites are emerging as a viable alternative to glass-fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) composites for many reasons. Natural fiber composites can be 25%-30% stronger than glass fiber for the same weight and can deliver the same performance for lower weight. In automotive parts, bio composites made from natural fibers reduce the mass of the component and can lower the total energy consumed in producing this material by 80%. Unlike man-made glass fiber, eco-friendly natural fiber composites are seen as a solution to growing environmental threats but also as an answer to the uncertainty of the petroleum supply.

Why does manufacturing prefer natural fiber composites? From a manufacturing standpoint, car manufacturers find that the molding process for natural fiber composites consumes less energy than that of fiberglass and produces less wear and tear on machinery, cutting production costs by up to 30%.
How are natural fiber composites “safer” for the vehicle passenger than fiberglass? Compared to glass fiber, natural fiber composites exhibit a favorable no brittle fracture on impact, which is an important requirement for use in the compartment of passenger transport.

How are natural fiber composites “quieter” in a vehicle than fiberglass? Natural fiber composite material has better sound absorption than fiberglass.

How are natural fiber composites more eco-friendly than fiberglass? Natural fiber cultivation depends mainly on solar energy. On the other hand, glass production and glass fiber production are both energy intensive processes depending mainly on fossil fuels. Glass fiber production requires 5-10 times more non-renewable energy than natural fiber production; as a result the pollutant emissions from glass fiber production are significantly higher than from natural fiber production. Natural fiber composites offer realistic opportunities for recovery and reuse of the trim.

The renewed interest in natural fiber composites is because they are an excellent alternative as a glass fiber substitute in automotive industries. The advantages of natural fibers over synthetic or man-made fibers such as glass and carbon are its low cost, low density, acceptable specific strength properties, consumption of less energy, manufacturability, and sound absorption properties, and it being an eco-friendly and biodegradable product.

Natural fiber composites are the substrate of choice in vehicles in the United States. As a total solutions provider, FlexForm Technologies can provide its customers with composite formulation and design, as well as product development. FlexForm Technologies is a North American leader in natural fiber composites.
For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.
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