Combine, a UK based joint project has developed a first generation of high performance composite materials which use completely biodegradable natural fibre reinforced plastics. These unique composite materials incorporate long, aligned natural fibres to strengthen naturally derived plastics. The development of these fabric-based composite materials is a part of Combine's two and a half year project and plans are in the pipeline to make the a number of industrial demonstrator parts.
The project is turning the natural fibres into long, aligned reinforcements to take advantage of their inherent mechanical properties of plants in structural applications with an added benefit of low weight relative to conventional reinforcements such as glass fibres. This will lead to a greater use of bioplastics which had a limited scope and use till now due to low mechanical properties. Polylactic acid (PLA), a corn-derived bio plastic has been identified as a perfect matrix material by the consortium. PLA is then combined with the natural fibre reinforcements of choice, flax and hemp fibre, both easily grown in the UK. New spinning and weaving methods are being worked upon to maximize the material properties. In addition, the project also includes process optimisation, painting, bonding and moulding. Also, the project aims to exploit the true potential of natural fibres and biopolymers to make high-performance biomaterials a reality. The capacity increase is part of a strategic development aiming at a world class PVC production plant, fully integrated upstream.