If Mohini Sain has his way, cars of the future may be fitted with tough, durable and completely biodegradable bumpers made of hemp.
Sain, a professor in the University of Torontos Faculty of Forestry and Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, creates biocomposites from processed plant fibres. His latest research, published in the August issue of Materials Research Innovations and the July issue of Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, describes a way to create a material from hemp (a member of the cannabis family) that is both strong and lightweight. "We hope to develop this technology for automotive interior parts like instrument panels, structural applications for buildings and sports equipment and, ultimately, for medical devices such as cardiac devices and blood bags," says Sain.
In the studies, Sain treated stalks of hemp with chemicals to break down the "glue" that holds clumps of fibres together. The plant material was then combined with synthetic plastics. However, if it is mixed with plastics made from soy beans or pulp and paper sludge, researchers can create tough biocomposites that are completely biodegradable. Finally, using a combination of heat and pressure, they compressed the material into a variety of shapes. While these studies used hemp, the process also works with flax, wheat and corn.
Janet Wong | U of T
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