Biobased composites are fibre-reinforced materials that are partly or completely made from renewable raw materials. Both the matrix material and the fibre reinforcement can have natural origins. Applications of biobased composites are used in the construction industry, automotive sector and in electronics casings.
Composites are an interesting group of materials because they are strong and stiff, and retain these characteristics at high temperatures. Benefits of using composites instead of metals, for instance, include their low weight, long lifespan and low maintenance costs. There are two types of synthetic composites: Thermoplastic and thermoset composites. Thermoplastic composites are plastics filled with short fibres or combinations of plastic with fabric or ‘non-wovens’. Important applications of these materials are car parts such as door panels and dashboards. Thermoset composites are resins filled with long fibres, fabrics or non-wovens. This type is used in applications with high material property requirements, such as sailing yachts and wind turbine blades.
The first generation of biobased composites had various drawbacks - mainly in processing but also with regards to costs - which delayed their market introduction. With the increasing availability of bioplastics, biobased resins and fibrous materials for composite applications, the quality and applicability of biobased composites has substantially increased over recent years.
Traditional fibre-reinforcing materials such as glass can be replaced by biobased fibre reinforcements such as natural fibres (flax, hemp, wood), viscose and PLA. These biobased materials can be used as long or short fibres, non-wovens and fabrics. An important benefit of the use of biobased fibres in composites is that they are suitable for thermal recycling. Bioplastics and biobased resins are mainly used because of their environmental benefits, including a reduction in CO2 emissions and the fossil fuel depletion.
Unique expertise in the field of biobased composites
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has a unique expertise in the field of bioplastics, biobased resins, thermosets and thermoplastics, natural fibres and composites. We have been working on the development of reinforcing fibres from various crops such as flax, hemp, jute and coconut fibre for decades. We analyse the characteristics of these fibres, investigate and develop applications in combination with various resin systems and bioplastics. We also have extensive experience in making thermoplastic composites using extrusion.