One of the key themes to emerge from NetComposites’ recent “Ecocomp” conference was how the application of biocomposites can be very effectively extended through the use of hybridisation - i.e the use of traditional composites and biocomposites in combination.
Whilst conventional bio-composite materials, based on 100% natural fibres or 100% bio-derived resins (or both), can be realised, their real-world applications are somewhat limited. On their own, high performance natural fibres generally struggle to compete with carbon fibres on performance and glass fibres on cost. And there are still only a very small number of commercially available 100% bio-resins.
However, several speakers at Ecocomp highlighted how the selective use of bio-materials in hybrid combinations with traditional composites can bring performance, cost and weight benefits.
Both Composites Evolution and the University of Plymouth described the benefits of hybridising traditional carbon fibre composites with flax fibres. It was demonstrated that selectively replacing a certain amount of carbon fibres in a laminate with flax can beneficially improve weight, cost, and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) characteristics. Similarly, whilst 100% bio-derived resins are still relatively scarce, hybrid blends of traditional and bio-resins, such as the cashew nut shell epoxy formulations presented by Cardolite at Ecocomp, provide users with wider options in terms of properties and sustainability.
So, when considering the use of biocomposites, it would be wise to look beyond the basic consideration as to whether they provide an effective substitute for a traditional composite. The biggest benefits might actually be achieved by using a biocomposite alongside a traditional composite.
EcoComp will return in 2019 (http://ecocomp-conference.com/).
Learn more about hybrid materials at MultiComp (http://multicomp-conference.com/).