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Green Future For Car Parts

posted 11 Jan 2013, 06:43 by RiDO Rotherham
Thanks to a new research programme being undertaken by engineers based at the AMP, future car owners may find that many of the body panels on their vehicles are produced from biocomposites, such as hemp and cashew nut resin, 

The £100,000 research project has the potential to revolutionise the automotive industry by evaluating the potential use of bio-composite materials in the production of future automotive vehicle bodywork panels, as potential alternatives to composite technologies currently in use such as carbon fibre and epoxy resin systems. 

The research is supported by a £50,000 grant from the Niche Vehicle Network and will be undertaken by project partners, Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd, TEKS UK Ltd and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing.

Biocomposite materials are formed by mixing a resin with natural fibres, usually derived from plants or cellulose. Biocomposites are characterised by the fact that petrochemicals resin are replaced by a vegetable or animal resin, and the fibres (fibreglass, carbon fibre or talc) are replaced by natural fibre (wood fibres, hemp, flax, sisal, jute etc).

There are a number of potential benefits that could result from the research, including; 

The 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.  

Development of new methods for the moulding and curing of composites, which reduces the energy and labour intensive methods typically used at present.

Development of new recycling methods and technologies for composites.  The renewable nature of the biocomposites may offer alternative end of life solutions, in particular with the potential biodegradability of these materials. 

Although these ideas may sound far-fetched in current tests 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.

In awarding the money for the Niche Vehicle Systems competition research programme,  Robert Anderson, the Niche Vehicle R&D Programme Manager said; “In the global automotive sector, highly creative and dynamic niche businesses are sometimes overlooked, and our funding packages provide important support to R&D projects such as this.”

Former Formula 1 design engineer , Dan Fleetcroft is now design director of Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd added; “This is an exciting project, both in terms of the untapped potential for biocomposites in the automotive industry, and having the opportunity to work on the project with key strategic partner organisations such as TEKS and the AMRC.

Roland Krain, General Manager TEKS SARL Ltd commented: "According to some predictions 80% of the world carbon fibre production will be taken up with the production of aircraft parts. The biocomposite systems being researched in this project will offer a viable alternative to such carbon fibre composites with the added benefit of the biocomposite being green."

Dr Tim Swait, research engineer at the AMRC Composite Centre, said: "There are a number of areas we need to investigate before these biocomposites can go into commercial production. We will research how we can increase the concentration of fibres to give material properties that match synthetic composites, and how we can produce the biocomposite components to optimise its performance.”

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