Scientists are hailing results of a four year project into new ‘ecomaterials’, funded mainly by the EU, as a major step towards developing fully sustainable products.

Coordinator at the engineering firm D’Appolonia, Andrea Ferrari, said: “It is made out of linen fabrics and natural resins. It is a sustainable, completely organically derived product”.

“We are convinced that very soon we will be able to replace fossil-derived materials with exclusively natural materials. We’re talking about materials born out of by-products like cotton, linen or hemp, or resins made with sugar cane or other crops which are not aimed at the food market,” added Ferrari.

Scientists involved in the research are hoping this new biocomposite could become a market reality in the next three to four years.

Before it hits the market, the new ecomaterials mechanical performances are fully tested and compared with those of carbon and other classic composites with tests including fracture toughness, elasticity and plasticity.

The tests have shown, however, that the natural composite has “inferior mechanical properties” compared to classic composites.

“For instance, it is less rigid and shows less mechanical strength than carbon composite,” says materials engineer at Cetma research centre Andrea Salomi.

“But these mechanical characteristics don’t mean that the natural composite will be more difficult to use than carbon composites. It depends on the type of final product that we want to develop with it,” he adds.

The advancement means the new biocomposite could be used to equip cars, build construction panels or to assemble furniture or musical instruments.

Composite manufacturer Guy Simmonds said: “Research is ongoing to increase the quality of the natural composite. In a year’s time, we will have a top quality product. And it shouldn’t be that expensive”.

The natural composite will cost between 20-25% more than current plastic composites, which, according to Simmonds, would mean a “price increase of just 30 or 40 cents per kilo for natural composites”.

Leigh Stringer

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