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Glass fibre: scientists look at plant fibres as alternative

Scientists hope to use plant fibres to create biodegradable cars to solve the problem of disposing of old metal parts.
A team at the University of New South Wales in Australia is working on a plant f…

Scientists hope to use plant fibres to create biodegradable cars to solve the problem of disposing of old metal parts. A team at the University of New South Wales in Australia is working on a plant fibre-based material as an alternative to carbon fibre and glass fibre. Professor Alan Crosky, from the School of Material Science and Engineering, said on 21 May that the team had examined plant fibres such as hemp, coconut, flax and banana fibre. He said plant-based materials should absorb more of an impact than metal. “Hemp is used in the same way as carbon fibre in Formula One cars, but it“s a lot cheaper,” Professor Crosky said. “So in essence a plant fibre car would be as safe as a Formula One car.” The strength of the plant fibres depends on how much crystalline cellulose they contain, and the angle of the fibres. Professor Crosky said flax and hemp appeared to have the best properties. Plant-fibre cars would be biodegradable, but not flammable. “As with a Formula One racing car, the resin in which the fibres are set to make them rigid is fire resistant,” Professor Crosky said. He said new resins were being developed from natural products such as soya beans and palm oil. “The soya bean resins could represent as little as a third the cost of conventional resins,” Professor Crosky said. The team hopes the plant fibre material would also be a cheap option. “Potentially, there“s a price saving but you have to consider the processing cost, the challenge will be to get that cost down to the same price as stamping steel,” Professor Crosky said. The main advantage of a plant-fibre car would be its recyclability. Professor Crosky said that with disposal of old cars becoming a problem, particularly in Europe, it was “only a matter of time before the expense of the disposal becomes the owner“s responsibility”. “Burning the plant-fibres wouldn“t put out any more CO2 (carbon dioxide) than was absorbed by the growing of the plant,” he said. “You could also smash up fibre-reinforced plastic and allow the fibres to degrade and use them as road fill.”

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