3 September 2019

Growing application areas for biocomposites

Dr. Asta Partanen from the nova-Institute explains, why usual plastics getting more and more replaced by biocomposites with wood or natural fibres

Dr. Asta Partanen, expert of the nova-Institut for market developments of biobased composites, will moderate the lecture session on biocomposites at this year’s ICC – International Composites Conference on September 11. In an interview, Dr. Partanen explains why the use of biocomposites is becoming increasingly attractive.

Dr. Partanen, you are an expert on biocomposites. What makes the material so attractive?

The most important trend at the present is: Plastics can be replaced by biocomposites with wood or natural fibres. Bio-based polymers, plastics and biocomposites can offer more sustainable materials with a lower environmental footprint and reduced carbon footprint. They can also reduce or avoid microplastic emissions in the environment (if a biodegradable plastic matrix is used). Additionally, biocomposites can offer special properties such as higher stiffness and strength. In combination with biodegradable plastics, fully bio-based and biodegradable solutions are possible. A light-weight solution for wood based biocomposites using foaming technology has been developed and even car body parts can be made to replace metal in racing cars.

For which applications and products do biocomposites have an advantage over conventional plastics?

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Dr. Asta Partanen

With the latest advances in injection moulding and 3D printing, wood plastic composites (WPC) and natural fibre composites (NFC) are now of great interest for several applications. Wood and natural fibre plastic granulates are being used for consumer goods such as music instruments, casing and cases, furniture, tables, toys, combs and trays. The unique look and touch convey high quality and value and are well received by customers. For example, with BioLite®, Trifilon offers a green alternative to plastics. BioLite ®is a polypropylene reinforced with 30% hemp fibres. Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibres in the world, which makes the products strong, light and durable. The use of hemp fibres optimises the material properties for many applications – the high-quality trolley case and a cooling box are just examples. The biocomposites in automotive applications presented at the ICC conference will include powerRibs™ of Bcomp Ltd (CH) that use flax grid reinforcements in automotive large series interiors and race car body parts and are able to reduce the weight of interior composite parts.

Biocomposites – does the term mean that all parts of the composites are bio-based?

No, but the trend is moving into that direction. Meanwhile, there are a lot of bio-based polymers on the market to produce partly or fully bio-based composites, to use renewable carbon instead of fossil carbon. Some are biodegradable in certain environments. In combination with biodegradable plastics, biocomposites are optimal for use in agriculture, horticulture and also for special applications such as filter balls and coffee capsules. In terms of improved properties, the Bio-based Composites session at the ICC conference includes a presentation of Arctic Biomaterials Oy Tomi Kangas, (Finland) that show thermoplastic bioplastic composites – with advanced heat resistance and mechanical properties with improved processing parameters.

Plastic packaging is currently a major topic. Can biocomposites be used for packaging?

Packaging is the leading application for bio-based polymers and in this area bio-based polymers do not differ optically from petro-based plastics. In combination with natural fibres, they offer excellent possibilities for Eco marketing, especially in biocosmetic cans or packaging for bio-based detergents. The natural fibres reduce the share of (bio)plastics, improve properties and offer a unique haptic and optic.

The automotive sector is also interested in biocomposites for a number of reasons…

Yes, in the automotive sector, biocomposites are primarily used for saving weight in car interiors. Especially small, new car producers are looking for ecological lightweight materials with low carbon footprint, which can certainly be provided by biocomposites. But we also see ongoing demand in the established automotive industry. Thomas Joachim from FRIMO Group GmbH (Germany) will show the current trends for automotive interior applications with natural fibre composites at the ICC.

What about developments in the established field of biocomposites – construction?

Wood-plastic composite (WPC) decking and railing were first developed in North America as a good way of recycling wood and plastics in the 1980s, and they created the greatest demand for WPC materials in decking applications throughout the world. In relative terms, WPC is still in its development life cycle and has a long potential to develop, yet that development appears to have slowed significantly since the product has reached a mature market stage in North America, as well as in Europe. But the market presence of larger producers from Europe and imports from the USA and China is still increasing.

A new kind of biocomposites for decking has been invented and is produced in Norway, the Kebony® technology is an environmentally friendly process that enhances the properties of softwood with a bio-based liquid and a secret composite material.

 

Bio-based Pavilion at COMPOSITES EUROPE 2019

At the Bio-based Pavilion in HAll 7 you will find composites with a reinforcement of natural fibres, wood or cellulose fibres, bio-based thermoplastics and thermosets as the matrix for glass and carbon fibres, and more.

 

To dive deeper into the world of biocomposites

At the end of the year, 14-15 November 2019, the 8th Biocomposites Conference Cologne offers a comprehensive overview of current developments, product diversity and application areas, www.biocompositescc.com. With an average of 250 participants and 30 exhibitors, the conference has established itself as the leading international conference in the sector of biocomposites.

Source: Composites Europe, press release, 2019-08-26.

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