Fibre reinforced polymers find wide commercial application in the aerospace, leisure, automotive, construction and sporting industries. In recent years there has been much interest in developing natural fibre reinforced polymers for a sustainable substitution of synthetic materials, and also to develop markets for the European non‐food crop industry sector.
The major impediment to growth facing the European natural fibre sector is the high processing costs needed to produce the fibres themselves. While natural fibres can be used for a wide variety of applications, other fibres are considerably more cost‐effective. The growth in the agro‐materials / energy crop sector is causing competition for land with food production and this is driving up the costs of both food and non‐food crop products.
There is an urgent need in Europe for more sympathetic integration of food and non‐food production; this can be partially achieved through improved process efficiency and productivity. Natural fibre crops cannot be easily separated into fibres of consistent quality. Therefore, to commercially exploit past research investment on the world market, new research must be undertaken to reduce processing costs and to improve fibre quality, consistency, and efficiency. The UltraFibre project will address these restrictions in the supply chain by delivering: A scalable, economic, continuous, clean‐ fluidsonics technology to deliver tonnage quantities of high quality fibre, conferring:
- Reduced production costs
- High quality elementary natural fibres
- Higher quality commercial thermoplastic and thermosetting composites in targeted end‐user applications
- Integration of a Soft Plasma fibre treatment process conferring a 25% increase in mechanical properties compared with the untreated fibre.
Source: Smithers Rapra, press release, 2011-02-11.