21 Januar 2003

From manufacturing plants to plant fibres — the future of the automotive industry may be “growing” thanks to QinetiQ

The car of the future may soon be stronger and more environmentally friendly because body shell materials will be ‘grown,’ reducing reliance on unsustainable traditional materials. Now, QinetiQ, Europe’s largest science and technology solutions provider, is leading a new project called Biomat which aims to harness the full potential of natural plant fibres as raw materials for the automotive industry.

Funded by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as a LINK project, the Biomat team will develop technologies to enhance the performance of plant fibre for use in injection moulded thermoplastic composites. LINK projects are schemes in which the Government collaborates in the funding of industrially relevant research to support its wealth and creation and quality of life goals.

Biomat project leader, QinetiQ’s Robert West, said: “The search for more durable, ecologically sound materials is very prominent in a process of technological change that is enveloping the industry. With Biomat, we hope to see an early adoption of our technology which could significantly support the automotive industry in its efforts to meet its green goals.”

Natural fibres offer many technical and environmental benefits when used to reinforce composites, such as high strength and stiffness qualities in low-density materials. QinetiQ, which will bring its unique understanding and experience of the underlying chemistry used to bond fibres to resin, recognises that natural fibre products also offer considerable environmental advantages, especially when grown and extracted using ecologically sensitive methods. These include the low energy requirements of plant fibres during manufacture and their relative ease of recycling.

The motor industry aims to produce body components that will further improve vehicle safety while helping to reduce their environmental impact over their entire life cycle. Increased consumer environmental awareness, coupled with tough new legislation which influences, for example, the need to recycle car components and body parts, is influencing the automotive industry’s approach to these challenges.

QinetiQ is leading the Biomat partnership which includes the Ford Motor Company Ltd, The Biocomposites Centre, University of Wales, Bangor, Birkbys Plastics Ltd, Engenuity Ltd, Visteon Automotive Systems, Premier Engineering Solutions Ltd, Hemcore Ltd, BioFibre Ltd and AEI Compounds Ltd.

Over the next four years, the Biomat project team will use various forms of flax and hemp fibre supplied by Hemcore and BioFibre, as well as coppiced willow processed by The BioComposites Centre. QinetiQ, The BioComposites Centre and AEI Compounds Ltd will conduct material properties, processing characterisation and development, with injection moulding studies managed by QinetiQ and Birkbys Plastics Ltd. The programme will involve using several innovative physical and chemical treatments, and a unique set of studies to characterise the interplay of factors affecting processing and properties at all stages, from fibre extraction to component design and manufacture.

The processing knowledge gained from the early part of the project will be used to design and manufacture a large and highly stressed automotive demonstrator component. The component will be subjected to a series of in-service tests, and running trials in a production car supplied by Ford with support from technology solutions provider, Visteon. Engenuity and Premier Engineering Solutions will conduct design studies and stress analysis in collaboration with the other consortium partners. Biomat is sponsored by Defra as part of its Competitive Industrial Materials Non-Food Crops LINK programme. The project starts officially in December 2002.

(Vgl. Meldung vom 2003-01-05.)

Source: Global Hemp-News vom 2002-12-19.

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