The UK is on its way to developing structural composite products manufactured from plant products, thanks to a new collaborative research and development project being led by NetComposites. The UK Department of Trade and Industry is providing £278,000 funding towards the £777,000 Combine project to develop bio-derived composites with the properties needed for products in sectors such as automotive, marine and medical devices.
Whereas most currently available natural fibre composites have random fibres, the Combine project is concentrating on developing flax-reinforced products with aligned, woven fibres to give far higher mechanical performance than has previously been achieved. The work will pair these fibres with both conventional (oil-derived) resins such as polypropylene, as well as plant-derived resins such as PLA.
Announcing the project, Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks said: “The plastics being created in this project will be strong and lightweight, but will be made from plants, which means they’ll eventually be composted into harmless plant products.
“Lots of hard work has been done to create greener engines for cars, this takes us the next step by creating environmentally friendly plastics for cars, boats and even baby capsules used to protect our toddlers in medical emergencies.”
“That’s not even mentioning the competitive advantage this kind of technology could have for the UK economy. Through the DTI-led Technology Programme, we’re working with business to develop the products and services we’ll need in the future.”
Gordon Bishop, Managing Director of NetComposites said: “The Combine project aims to develop high performance plant-derived plastics for structural parts like car doors by using innovative combinations of natural fibres and bio-plastics. It also aims to create products which are biodegradable, for the first time creating structural materials and products from renewable resources.”
NetComposites will be working with Springdale Crop Synergies, Fairline Boats, John Brierley, Sam Weller and Sons, E&F Composites, Ecocats, Lightweight Medical and Queen Mary University of London.
NetComposites is also leading a second consortium, called FuturePlas, to develop the next generation of stronger, light-weight self-reinforced plastics, using high-strength polymer fibres inside polymer matrices to give significantly enhanced properties over conventional unreinforced plastics. This project will manufacture and test an industrial safety helmet and prototype a car front-end, as lighter bodies for cars increase performance, while reducing fuel consumption. This is also being part funded with a Technology Programme grant from the DTI.
A spin-off company, Aptiform, has already been created to supply components from these new types of plastic materials.