Developing a green industry based on renewable materials, sustainable technologies and optimal processes with low environmental impact is a fundamental goal, but it remains a considerable challenge to achieve it.
Since 2020 at iGestek we have defined a Circular Economy Development Line, participating in polymer recycling projects, use of natural reinforcement fibers, etc. FIBERGREEN project is one of IGESTEK’S projects that are supported by the Biscay Provincial Council within the 2i program, and its main objective is the incorporation of sustainable materials such as high-performance biocomposites, or also called Green Composites, in the manufacture of Bodywork Components (BiW) with an aesthetic finish, using automated processes to obtain quality products with high productivity and efficiency.
In our case, we focused on composites that are formed by a thermoplastic polymeric matrix reinforced with natural fibers such as flax, kenaf or hemp. A natural fiber like flax is about 40% lighter than fiberglass and 20% lighter than carbon fiber, making these composites exceptional candidates for lightening. They can be found with different architectures depending on their application, as can be seen in the following image; non-woven fabric, compact laminates, long woven fiber, pre-pregs and also reinforcement structures.
Composite materials of natural origin have existed for decades, but it is not until recent years that they are gaining more presence in the market, since new concepts of compounds are being developed to be transformed through more automated processes, such as compression molding, thus increasing their production rate and making them more accessible to the industrial world.
There is a new generation of biocomposites in which, by optimizing the mechanical properties of natural fibers through a specific material architecture, high performance composites can be achieved at a low cost.
IGESTEK has delved into the study of the possibilities of this new generation of biocomposites, focusing on those that can be transformed through Compression Molding or Press Molding. To do this, IGESTEK designed a Demonstrator with a series of geometric challenges (radius, changes in curvature, etc), so they were able to analyze shrinkage, deformations, surface finishes, etc. The exterior skin of this demonstrator was made by compression molding, the interior skin was overmoulded by high pressure injection to make elements such as Fixings, RPS, Reinforcement Ribs, etc.
The Natural Fiber used (Kenaf) produces surfaces with a brown appearance, this appearance of the fibers and of the entire compound creates an attractive finish to be used in different industries and products. We were able to achieve a Premium finish for A class exterior surface, compatible with the painting requirements of this type of function.
Thermoplastic Biocomposites are easy to recycle by mechanical processes. Trim, scrap, and end-of-life parts can be easily regranulated, injection molded, or extruded again, either alone or mixed with new short fiber reinforced or unreinforced composite materials.
The knowledge and experience acquired during the course of the project allows us to face new challenges and contribute to a greater or lesser extent, to reduce environmental problems derived from current production systems.
The results of this project were presented at several Customer Technical Centers in the Automotive Industry (OEM, Tier1), as well as the Aerospace Industry. There is an important application opportunity in Last Mile Vehicles, also for small aircraft to transport loads at lower altitudes in urban and suburban areas, in all cases the project was very well received.