If composite materials are innovative, biocomposites are the future. Biocomposites, materials made from natural fibers reinforced by resin, are surging in popularity among dozens of forward-thinking industries. By 2021, the global biocomposites market is expected to be more than a $6.5 billion industry.
Biocomposites: Makes and Uses
Biocomposites can be made out of any number of natural fiber materials. Some of the most commonly used include sisal, hemp, jute, flax, and coir, as well as a spate of wood fibers such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride. These materials, renowned for their long-term sustainability as well as physical properties like strength and stiffness, are being increasingly implemented in various industrial applications. A few of the most common applications for biocomposites include automotive, military, construction, and consumer packaging, among others.
Biocomposites in Automobiles
Perhaps the most exciting developments in the biocomposite space are happening in the automotive industry. Just a few years ago, the notion of a car constructed even out of traditional composites seemed impossible; recently, the first electric vehicle made almost entirely out of biocomposites has been announced to the public.
Developed by a team of students at the Eindhoven University of Technology, the vehicle (called “Lina”) is constructed from a combination of bio-based composites and bioplastics. Material sources such as flax, sugar beet-derived resin, and polylactic acid provide the vehicle’s components with high stiffness and minimal weight, characteristics similar to those of glass fiber composites.
The Future of Biocomposites for Cars
Why do biocomposites matter in the automotive space? Because the production of biocomposite materials is far more sustainable than that of carbon, aluminum, and steel, by a factor of over six times. The base-material for biocomposites is typically a renewable resource, too, which makes the entire supply chain greener.
Biocomposite cars could potentially be lighter, more fuel efficient, and – important for commercial applications – less expensive than traditional metal vehicles. When constructed from lightweight biomaterials, car components require less energy to propel. “Greener” automobiles would also be far more recyclable than the 10-11 million metal cars sent to salvage each year in the U.S. alone. This value-add is particularly attractive for European automakers who must pay substantial sums to “landfill” a product.
So far, biocomposite vehicles are little more than a novelty. There are challenges to be overcome, such as the “musty” smell biocomposites give off as well as perception hurdles surrounding safety. Still, scientists and automakers alike say they are optimistic about the opportunities presented by bio-plastics and composites for the near future.
Want to find out more about B&W Fiberglass and our role in the biocomposites market? Reach out to our team today to talk shop.