PES led bio-composite research project has potential to revolutionise automotive industry

A £100,000 research project is set to evaluate the potential use of bio-composite materials in the production of future automotive vehicle bodywork panels.

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

ELCOMAP team with bio-composite Subaru part

ELCOMAP team with bio-composite Subaru part

The ELCOMAP (Environmentally friendly lightweight composite materials for aerodynamic body panels) project will research the potential alternatives to composite technologies currently in use such as carbon fibre and epoxy resin systems. The technology has the potential to revolutionise the production of low volume specialist components for high performance vehicles.

Biocomposite materials are formed by mixing a resin and a reinforcement of natural fibres, usually derived from plants or cellulose. Biocomposites are characterised by the fact that the petrochemical resin is 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;

  • Development and 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. In fact 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.
  • Development of processing methods for the moulding and curing of composites, which reduces the energy and labour intensive methods currently used.
  • Development of new recycling methods and technologies for composites. This will apply to both regular polymer and biocomposites, however the renewable nature of the biocomposites may offer alternative end of life solutions, in particular with the potential biodegradability of these materials.

PES Ltd is leading the project, and design director, Dan Fleetcroft said;

“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.

“Annual production revenue in the UK composite sector currently amounts to around £1.1 billion, about £0.4 billion of which is exported. UK demand for composites is expected to grow rapidly over the next 5 years to £2bn in 2015.

“The UK growth rates for glass fibre (9% pa) and carbon fibre (17% pa) composites are faster than those forecast for the UK and the rest of Europe, and match or exceed those of emerging markets.”

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

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