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New generation advanced bio-composites from bio-resins and natural fibers

New generation advanced bio-composites from bio-resins and natural fibers

A new generation of advanced bio-composites from bio-resins and natural fibers is being developed by the BIOVANT project funded by the Valencian Institut of Business Competitiveness (IVACE) and the European Union. The innovative material replaces a large amount of petroleum-based polymer by natural oils and glass fibers by natural fibers; it is also much lighter than traditional composites, more economical, environmentally friendly and corrosion resistant. The project consortium will develop a novel Bio-Composite from soybean oil resin reinforced with natural fibers such as flax, hemp and jute. In the case of the bio-resin, which includes in its composition soybean oil, it is intended to replace a large percentage of the petroleum-based polymer which is usually employed in conventional composites. The project, to end in 2014, expects to reduce its presence in the composition to 60-70%. The material will be used to manufacture blades. Introduction of natural fibers in the new blades is very important, not only from the weight reduction point of view (between 30-40%), but also glass fiber is replaced by a natural fiber material, that causes less damage to the equipment used for the processing of biocomposites, and also it is recyclable. Using natural fibres requires lower energy for their manufacturing, as compared to glass fibres with the subsequent advantages for the environment. These materials derived from renewable sources offer good mechanical properties and thermal and acoustic insulation, and a lower cost for the production of natural fibers. These advantages make the new Bio-Composite particularly suitable for its use in industries such as shipbuilding, transport, automotive, construction, furniture, leisure and sport, and even renewable energy.

Research supported by a £50,000 grant from the Niche Vehicle Network will be undertaken by project partners Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd based at the AMP Technology Center, TEKS UK Ltd and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) with Boeing. The ELCOMAP (Environmentally friendly lightweight composite materials for aerodynamic body panels) project will research the potential alternatives to composite technologies currently in use such as carbon fiber and epoxy resin systems. The technology has the potential to revolutionize the production of low volume specialist components for high performance vehicles. Biocomposite materials are formed by mixing a resin and a reinforcement of natural fibers, usually derived from plants or cellulose. Biocomposites are characterized by the fact that the petrochemical resin is replaced by a vegetable or animal resin, and the fibers (fiberglass, carbon fiber or talc) are replaced by natural fiber (wood fibers, hemp, flax, sisal, jute etc). There are a number of potential benefits that could result from the research, including;

  • Development and creation of new 'Biocomposite' materials using a combination of natural (bio) and synthetic fibres to reinforce polymer matrices from both renewable and non-renewable resources. Some of the biocomposite materials actually out perform their equivalent regular polymer composites with, for example, the cashew nut resin system, using the waste nut shells or husks achieving a greater toughness than the conventional epoxy based matrix currently in use.
  • Development of processing methods for the molding and curing of composites, which reduces the energy and labor intensive methods currently used.
  • Development of new recycling methods and technologies for composites. This will apply to both regular polymer and biocomposites, however the renewable nature of the biocomposites may offer alternative end of life solutions, in particular with the potential biodegradability of these materials.

If successful, the results from the research project will potentially be used to further develop the technologies and products around bio-composites materials and to demonstrate the strength, durability and cosmetic finish essential to establishing the commercial viability of the use of bio composites for making low volume specialist components for performance vehicles and in the wider automotive market.

 
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