IMAGINE a world where vehicle body parts – that can be made from plant matter but have to be almost unbreakable – “do their job” efficiently and then, at the end of their working life, biodegrade harmlessly. Sounds improbable or too far in the future?
No, that cleaner, greener world may not be a distant place. Extraordinary research in the UK is well on its way to create such products manufactured from super-strong “green” plastic, made from plant material.
The UK’s Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) is providing part funding of £278,000 towards the project to develop such plastic materials durable enough for car doors, boat hulls, baby incubators and similar products that are tough and light but environmentally friendly.
UK futuristic bio-plastic developer NetComposites is leading the scheme called Combine (short for commingled biomaterials from nature) that has a budget of almost £780,000.
The Combine project aims to develop high-performance bio-derived composites for structural applications by using innovative combinations of natural fibres and bio-plastics.
Today, natural fibres are only available as short fibres for injection moulding or as random mats for compression moulding, neither of which offers sufficient strength or stiffness for structural components. Natural fibre yarns are normally twisted and which makes impregnation with viscous thermoplastic resins difficult.
In the Combine project, hemp and flax fibres will be processed, spun into continuous filaments and woven into high-performance fabrics. These will be combined with bio-plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA) and moulded into parts through vacuum-bag moulding and compression moulding.
Surface treatments will be used to enhance the bonding of the fibres to the resin. Joining and finishing techniques will be developed for the materials and environmental degradation, compostability and recyclability will be assessed.
For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.netcomposites.com.