U.K. Consortium to Investigate High-Performance Natural Fiber Composites

 The first generation of high performance composite materials made from completely bio-degradable long, aligned natural fiber-reinforced plastics has been produced by a U. K. -based consortium called COMBINE.

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 The first generation of high performance composite materials made from completely bio-degradable long, aligned natural fiber-reinforced plastics has been produced by a U.K.-based consortium called COMBINE. The collaborative two-and-a-half-year project is co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, whose objectives are to develop high-performance bioderived composites for structural applications. Now that first-generation materials are available, plans are underway to manufacture three industrial demonstrator parts. Two of the consortium's end-user partners, Fairline Boats (Oundle, U.K.) and Lightweight Medical (Glasgow, Scotland), have begun to develop a marine component and a section of a mobile incubator, respectively.

Although natural fibers already are used to reinforce conventional plastics, for example, in injection molded or press molded interior parts for the automotive industry, the fibers are generally short and randomly oriented, producing relatively low mechanical properties. Plastics made from renewable resources have been even less market-ready in terms of their use in engineered products. The COMBINE project aims to correct these deficiencies by converting the natural fibers into long, aligned reinforcements to exploit the inherent mechanical properties of plants in structural applications, with the added advantage of lower weight than conventional reinforcements, such as glass fibers. Polylactic acid (PLA), a bioplastic made from corn, has been identified as a suitable matrix material by the consortium, while polypropylene is also being considered as a partial nearer-to-market solution. These are combined with long flax and hemp fibers, both easily grown in the U.K. Novel spinning and weaving techniques are being developed to optimize material properties. Further work will include process optimization, painting, bonding and molding. In addition to Fairline Boats and Lightweight Medical, the consortium consists of seven other U.K. partners. Research, consultancy and online media company NetComposites (Chesterfield, U.K.) is the project coordinator.

Dr. Brendon Weager, project manager at NetComposites, says, "This project is making great strides towards harnessing the true potential of natural fibers and biopolymers to make high-performance biomaterials a reality."

For further information please contact Elaine Arnold at NetComposites, Tel.: +44 (0) 1246 541 918; Web site:www.combineproject.org.uk.

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