Bcomp Ltd. (Switzerland) is developing and selling high performance composite reinforcements made out of natural fibers. Those reinforcements typically replace glass fiber and carbon fiber reinforcements in composite structures. The natural fiber reinforcements are used in a wide range of applications, as for example skis, bicycles, car body parts in motorsports, boat building, bio-composite bridges or design applications.
The main advantage of the natural fiber reinforcements is the very good stiffness to weight ratio, which outperforms the one of glass fiber. They also provide good vibration damping and of course are more sustainable than their glass or carbon counterparts.
However, there are also several disadvantages, which limit their use at a broader scale. The price significantly higher than glass fibers clearly prevents the use in price sensitive applications using high amount of glass fibers. But there are also technical limitations, such as the limited strength compared to glass or carbon fibers or the high sensitivity to moisture which can reduce the durability of the composite parts. For example, the use of ampliTex™ and powerRibs™ flax fiber reinforcements has been recently steadily growing in the motorsport industry. There is a perfect fit there, as it brings the required performances at a lower cost than carbon fibers, and the durability question is limited to few seasons, if there is not a crash in-between. Then the unique question to move on sportscars homologated for standard traffic is how the parts will behave on a 20 years lifetime, under the rain, the sun, without any degradation.
Those questions are perfect research topics for Fibrenet ESR. Can we improve the durability by playing with the crystallinity grade of the matrix? Can the performances be enhanced by grafting other molecules on the fibers? How can the low compressive properties of natural fibers be understood and modelled? Hopefully those questions will be answered by the end of the project.
Julien Rion, PhD
CTO at Bcomp Ltd.