The drive towards a carbon-neutral economy has led customers and companies to seek out more environmentally friendly products. To develop such products, manufacturers have invariably turned to natural and wood fibres and bio-based polymers.
The bio-based composites resulting from the combination of these fibres and polymers are lightweight, durable and cheap.
However, their main advantage is their sustainability stemming from their extremely small carbon footprint.
Contributing towards Europe’s sustainable development goals, the BBI JU-funded Ssuchy project is developing multifunctional recyclable and/or biodegradable bio-based composites from hemp and wood feedstock. The project aims to create and demonstrate a complete value chain – from field to end product – for applications in the automotive, aerospace, acoustics and electronics industries.
Three years into the 4-year project, Ssuchy researchers have made important advancements in bio-based polymer technology.
According to a news item posted on the ‘Open Access Government’ website, ‘[a]pplied research on bio-based polymers consists of transforming under-exploited wood fractions (such as bark) into building blocks for thermoset and thermoplastic polymers. So far, the thermoset track is the most advanced and the project is currently working to find a solution to scale-up the production of some candidate monomers.’
Other significant achievements include the development of novel curing methods resulting in a water-insensitive thermoset system that doesn’t require the use of dry plant fibres.
In the area of hemp fibre-woven reinforcement, the Ssuchy team has made significant progress in the cultivation and primary and secondary processing steps involved in the creation of quality fabrics for structural applications.
Ssuchy’s work on bio-based composites has led to some of the developed materials being used in four industrial demonstrators. The prototypes have demonstrated how bio-based composites can replace their fossil-based counterparts in existing industrial applications. By the end of the project in August 2021, all the demonstration prototypes will be using hemp woven reinforcements.
One demonstrator is the first prototype of a green loudspeaker system and a cockpit panel, part of Wilson Benesch’s Precision Seriers representing the first-of-its-kind bio-based high-end audio speaker with tangible market possibilities and composed of an eco-friendly sandwich material from a woven hemp fabric developed by Linificio & ENSAIT combined with a recycled PET foam.
Another is the cockpit panel for electrical aircraft, designed by project partners Bristol Composites Institute (University of Bristol) and European Aerospace Design Consultants (EADCO), has a core made of an epoxy-flax composite combined with aerospace-grade foam.
‘To our knowledge, SSUCHY’s demonstrator cockpit panel is currently the only biobased structural cockpit part to have reached performances compatible with EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) regulations requirements and more specifically the very harsh aircraft specifications and certification rules,’ read a recent press release issued by the project.
The other two demonstrators in progress are a bio-based monocoque electric scooter frame and a load-bearing automotive trunk floor by project partners NPSP and Trèves (CERA), respectively.
In its final year, SSUCHY will finish producing and testing its product demonstrators. It further aims to participate in other initiatives involving end-of-life bio-based composites.
The project will also take part in a summer school programme to teach master’s and doctoral students about recent advancements in natural fibre technologies.
The Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is a €3.7 billion Public-Private Partnership between the European Union and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). To date, BBI JU has funded 123 bio-based innovation projects involving 924 beneficiaries from 37 EU Member States and Associated Countries.
Bio-based Industries (BBI) Joint Undertaking
Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC)
European Aerospace Design Consultants (EADCO)
European Union Aviation Safety Agency EASA
Linificio e Canapificio Nazionale
University of Bristol