A £100,000 research project has been launched which will evaluate the potential of bio-composite materials in the production of future automotive vehicle bodywork panels.
The research, announced yesterday at Autosport International, will be carried out by Performance Engineered Solutions (PES), TEKS UK and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing.
The research is backed by a three month funding package of £50,000 from the Niche Vehicle Network.
The ELCOMAP (Environmentally friendly lightweight composite materials for aerodynamic body panels) project will research potential alternatives to the carbon fibre and epoxy resin composite technologies currently in use.
ELCOMAP technology has the potential to revolutionise the production of low volume specialist components for high performance vehicles say the research partners.
Dan Fleetcroft, design director at PES said: “This is an exciting project, both in terms of the untapped potential for bio-composites 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 and Mr Fleetcroft asserts that 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,” he said.
Bio-composite materials are formed by mixing a resin and a reinforcement of natural fibres, usually derived from plants or cellulose. Bio-composites 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).
Roland Krain, general manager TEKS SARL said that the development of bio-composites will become more important in the near future as the price of carbon fibre inflates.
“According to some predictions 80% of the world carbon fibre production will be taken up with the production of aircraft parts by such companies as Boeing and Airbus,” he explained. “In such cases carbon fibre composites will become more costly with increased production lead times. The bio-composite systems being researched in this project will offer a viable alternative to such carbon fibre composites with the added benefit of the bio-composite being green.”
If successful, the research project will potentially be used 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.