Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

High-tech flax and hemp — from car panels to lightweight concrete

09.03.2004


While textile flax produced in France is exported all over the world for the production of high-quality linen clothes and sheets, these natural fibres are now being re-discovered by French manufacturers and put to unexpected and exciting uses.



Increasingly, flax is being used by automotive equipment manufacturers as a source of raw material that is environmentally friendly and less dangerous — in the event of a vehicle crashing — when used for interior panels in cars. Hemp fibres are also employed in industry to provide rigidity for plastics and in buildings as a natural insulator.

Near Yvetot, in Normandy (in North-Western France), newly-formed company Techni-Lin processes flax fibre into interior panels for car doors. Automotive equipment manufacturers are very interested in natural fibres to make their cars environmentally friendlier and easier to recycle.


In Chemillé, in the Maine-et-Loire region (in Western France), Effireal manufactures hemp wool from hemp fibres produced by farmers in the Aube region of Eastern France. The fibres are prepared and cleaned by the Chanvrière de l’Aube co-operative company. More and more home owners are looking for natural materials to insulate their properties and are starting to value and appreciate this new use for hemp.

Flax-polypropylene — a winning combination

Textile flax is a plant widely cultivated in Northern France for the manufacture of yarn and textiles which are exported all over the world. But not all the fibres in flax are of the same quality. “We were looking for a new market, different from that of woven textiles or paper making, to exploit the lower quality fibre,” explains Rémi Dubost, a farmer in Seine-Maritime and the president of flax-hackling co-operative Centrale Linière Cauchoise. (The word ‘hackling’ comes from ‘hackle’, referring here to the steel comb used for dressing flax.) “We came up with the idea of introducing flax fibre into composites.”

The heads of the co-operative from Yvetot had met by chance some automotive equipment manufacturers who quickly became interested in their approach, and this is how Techni-Lin came to life in 1995, in the form of a subsidiary set up by the co-operative. “We took two years to develop our product fully,” explains François Asselin, manager at Techni-Lin. “It is a composite material made from a mixture of 50% polypropylene [PP] fibre and 50% flax fibre. The ratio of the mixture can also be 60%-40% or 70%-30%”. This new material is manufactured in Techni-Lin’s factory.

Flax units fitted in 2,000 vehicles a day

From 1996, demand gradually increased and, in July 2000, the company installed a new production line and its own thermo-pressing machine. Today, it provides the interior door panels for the Opel Corsa and the Citroën C5 as well as the rear parcel shelf for the Renault Twingo. In 2002, Techni-Lin processed no less than 800 metric tonnes of flax fibre and provided the interior door panels for an impressive total of 2,000 vehicles per day.

“Flax is appreciated because it is a very strong natural fibre, which prevents the panel from breaking in the event of an accident,” points out François Asselin. “It also has the advantage of reducing the weight of the finished product by 20% while yielding cost benefits.” To enter this market, Techni-Lin had to meet the very rigid requirements of the automotive industry with regard to quality assurance. Indeed, in a few months, the start-up became an approved supplier to the automotive industry (EAQF), was ISO 9002-certified, and also obtained AQP (Product Quality Assurance) quality certification.

For François Asselin, there is no doubt that the market can only grow. “In Europe, there is a wealth of interest in composites made from natural fibres,” he says. “Other industries are also interested in this type of product. For example, a designer has just produced his first table from one of our composites.”

Hemp — a natural insulator also used for making lightweight concrete

Industrial hemp is also grown in France, but traditionally for the paper industry. (It should be pointed out that industrial hemp, as distinct from Indian hemp, contains, according to French regulations, less than 0.2% THC, the psychotropic substance present in Indian hemp.) The search for more natural products in all sectors of activity was taken up by hemp producers and especially by the Chanvrière de l’Aube co-operative — a group of slightly more than 300 hemp farmers in Eastern France, who process the production from 6,000 hectares of hemp.

“We were looking for markets for our products and we investigated the possibility of manufacturing hemp-wool as an insulator for homes, as an alternative to glass-wool or rock-wool,” explains Yves Bétrencourt, the co-operative’s sales manager. “We met companies interested in this use of hemp, such as Effireal and Natilin (in Western France) and Buitex (near Lyons). Trials quickly showed that hemp-wool exhibited the same insulating properties as glass-wool. It even has the advantage, compared with glass-wool or rock-wool, of regulating interior humidity, which brings additional comfort in the home.”

Hemp-wool does, however, have a disadvantage, in that it is quite expensive, at €8 to €15 per m2, or 2.5 to 4 times as much as glass-wool. “This product appeals to those who are concerned about the environment and who are committed to using natural products in the construction of their homes,” notes Pierre Barthélemy of Effireal. “Many others are interested in the idea of using natural fibres but are reluctant to pay the extra. For hemp-wool to be used by everyone, we would need a certain amount of assistance from the government, such as tax incentives, like those for solar energy.”

Fibres from Chanvrière de l’Aube are also used for making insulating panels and lightweight concrete. Indeed, the co-operative is in the process of developing breeze-blocks containing hemp, and intends to file for a patent shortly. “Today, the building sector makes up 15% of our market, but I am sure that it will represent much more in the future,” predicts Yves Bétrencourt. “The market is still in its infancy.”

Hemp reinforces superior organic plastics

Hemp, like flax, is also used in the interior trim for cars. “In this market, natural fibres have great appeal for manufacturers since they weigh only half as much as glass fibre, for which they are a substitute, and are half its price,” says the spokesperson for Chanvrière de l’Aube. Similarly, the co-operative has recently turned its attention to rigid plastics. To enter this market, it formed, with Eurochanvre (a subsidiary of cereal growers’ co-operative Interval, in the Haute-Saône region), a company called Agro Fibres Technologies Plasturgie (or AFT Plasturgie).

“We are still at the research and development stage with it, but the first plastics reinforced with hemp fibre have already been tested and the first products should be available [commercially] shortly,” says AFT manager Gérard Mougin. “The plastics manufacturing market is vast, and ranges from computer cases through to household electrical products, and includes plastic furnishings, vehicle dashboards, food crates, and moulded packaging — the possibilities are endless.” The big advantage of natural fibres, compared with glass fibre, lies in the fact that organic plastics are less abrasive, easier to mould and cut and, above all, easier to recycle than artificial (or conventional) plastics.

Philip Jolly | alfa
Further information:
http://www.infotechfrance.com/london/

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Manchester scientists tie the tightest knot ever achieved
13.01.2017 | University of Manchester

nachricht CWRU directly measures how perovskite solar films efficiently convert light to power
12.01.2017 | Case Western Reserve University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solar Collectors from Ultra-High Performance Concrete Combine Energy Efficiency and Aesthetics

16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News

3D scans for the automotive industry

16.01.2017 | Automotive Engineering

Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs

16.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>