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FibreCITY: Taking biocomposites from concept to reality

News International-French

2 Apr 2015

Simon Potter is the sector manager of product innovation at the Composites Innovation Center in Manitoba, Canada.

He will be making a presentation during the JEC Americas: Houston conferences about providing quality assurance for establishing complete supply chains, next June.

1.       What kind of innovations can we expect from the natural fibres field?
The future of natural fibre composites (biocomposites) is promising, as many biocomposites can possess similar characteristics as traditional composites, such as those reinforced with fibreglass and carbon fibre, and therefore could be a realistic replacement for those materials. The kind of innovations that can be expected from the natural fibre industry can include everything from cars made out of hemp to buildings made out of flax.  The CIC’s FibreCITY program is designed to produce the best performing biocomposite materials possible from a thorough knowledge of natural fibres and bio-matrices.  As optimal combinations of natural fibres and bio-resin systems are developed through FibreCITY, biocomposites will see much greater market penetration than is currently possible.

As the industry grows and more companies opt to use a greener option for their products, rural economies will be stimulated, jobs will be developed in all areas of the industry from farmers to manufacturers and the global environmental footprint will be reduced. The only way for this to happen is for companies to work with organisations that can help them understand the benefits of using biocomposites in their products.

 2.       How has the Composites Innovation Centre taken part in the development of this industry?
The Composites Innovation Centre (CIC), located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, has been a strong supporter of the development of the natural fibre industry since its inception in 2003. The CIC has completed multiple demonstrator projects, such as designing and prototyping the outer shell of the Kestrel car in hemp and flax, working with Chopper College to create the EcoCycle, a motorcycle that runs on E85 fuel with a biocomposites fuel tank and rear fender, building the Green Garage, a garage made entirely out of green building products and working with Buhler Versatile to create a tractor hood out of natural fibres.

In combination with the demonstrator projects, the CIC has launched the FibreCITY initiative to make the idea of using natural fibres in manufacturing industries a reality. FibreCITY is a unique set of equipment that looks at the properties of various natural fibres and is finding answers to some of the most prevalent challenges that the natural fibre industry is facing. It is gauging crop quality and determining the most suitable varieties of crops for composites, providing quality assurance for establishing complete supply chains to give industry easy access to readily available engineered biomaterials and optimizing fibre-to-resin interfaces and enhancing long-term degradation, impact resistance and moisture uptake properties.

With our decortication facility, the FibreCITY team can take commercially grown bales of biomass, such as flax and hemp straw, from producers, separate the biomass into fibres and shive, tag the materials and condition them to be tested. Through FibreCITY’s main laboratory located within the CIC, those materials can then be examined to determine their physical, chemical and mechanical properties to define what applications they can be used for.

The world is at a point where the need for a renewable option for manufacturing products is growing at a rapid rate as our non-renewable resources are becoming less available. The natural fibre industry provides the answer to that problem as innovations and new technologies are being discovered every day through organisations like the CIC.  

3.       What are your main goals during this speech in Houston in June?
The principal goals for the CIC/FibreCITY presence in Houston are to:

  • Promote knowledge and acceptance of biocomposites as structural materials for the automotive, agricultural machinery and green building sectors
  • Establish FibreCITY as the “go-to” facility for characterisation and standardisation of biocomposites for their application in industry
  • Provide information to industry on the fibre grading and quality assurance capabilities of FibreCITY and its collaborators globally (Canada, USA, Australia, China and Europe) and to generate commercial interest in FibreCITY and biocomposite materials.

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