Portsmouth University researchers have developed lightweight materials from agro-waste that could someday find their way into automobiles, ships and aircraft.
The composites were produced from farming leftovers like flax, hemp, jute and waste biomass date palm fibers to provide parts like car bumpers and door linings.
The researchers contend that this new process could provide farmers with extra income and reduce C02 emissions from the burning of waste.
Dr Hom Nath Dhakal, who leads Portsmouth’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (AMM) Research Group, said: “We are working to address the key challenges of using natural reinforced composites for structural and semi-structural applications such as internal engine covers, seat back and roof structures, among others.”
“The impact of this work would be extremely significant because these lightweight alternatives could help reduce the weight of vehicles, contributing to less fuel consumption and fewer C02 emissions. The sustainable materials can be produced using less energy than glass and carbon fibers and are biodegradable, therefore easier to recycle.”
Date palm is cultivated extensively in North Africa and the Middle East and the accumulated bio-waste of plant fibers is in the order of millions of tons per year. While there are a number of traditional uses of this bio-waste (including ropes and baskets), a large amount of the residue is burnt or land-filled.
The Portsmouth study looked at the structure, physio-chemical and mechanical properties of date palm fibers to assess whether they had the potential as reinforcements for composite materials. It found they could be cost-effective and environmentally-friendly reinforcements for better impact resistance and improved damping properties.
This investigation looked at the relationships of property structures. It showed that components such as door linings, front and rear car bumpers and parcel shelves could be manufactured using these reinforcements.
One of the issues with materials created from natural fibers is the lower strength compared to carbon and glass fiber composites, as they are susceptible to increased moisture absorption.
The researchers thus tested the effect of water absorption on the mechanical properties of a composite of flax and basalt fibers, and found out that this hybrid of natural and basalt fibers had high mechanical strength.
Image and content: University of Portsmouth