UK team uses biomass to create lightweight composites

Engineers at Portsmouth University have been experimenting with agricultural biomass to create new types of composites for the transport industry.

Using flax, hemp, jute and waste biomass date palm fibres, the researchers have been able to manufacture lightweight non-structural components such as car bumpers and door linings. With so much agricultural waste going to landfill or being burnt, repurposing these products could simultaneously help reduce C02 emissions across both agriculture and transport.


“We are working to address the key challenges of using natural reinforced composites for structural and semi-structural applications such as internal engine covers, seat back and roof structures, among others,” said Dr Hom Nath Dhakal (left), who leads the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (AMM) Research Group at Portsmouth.

“The impact of this work would be extremely significant because these lightweight alternatives could help reduce the weight of vehicles, contributing to less fuel consumption and fewer C02 emissions. The sustainable materials can be produced using less energy than glass and carbon fibres and are biodegradable, therefore easier to recycle.”

The group has published several papers on its work over the past 12 months, with its research into waste leaf sheath date palm fibres perhaps the most important. Date palm is cultivated extensively in North Africa and the Middle East and the accumulated bio-waste of plant fibres is in the order of millions of tonnes per annum. While there are a number of traditional textile uses of this bio-waste such as ropes and baskets, a large amount of the residue is burnt or land-filled.

Published in Composites Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing, the study looked at the structure, physio-chemical and mechanical properties of date palm fibres to assess whether they had the potential as reinforcements for composite materials. It found they could be cost-effective and environmentally-friendly reinforcements for better impact resistance and improved damping properties.

“The way forward for natural fibre composites to be used in structural applications would be a combination of both materials (natural and synthetic fibres) with a hybrid approach,” said Dr Dhakal. “Meeting these challenges requires further research and innovation between academic institutions and industry.”