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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

Put it Together - All Natural String and Glue

Natural or bio-based composite materials are starting to come into their own for a number of reasons. It has taken the manufacturers and R&D labs in chemical and agricultural products companies a while to develop natural bio-based polymers and fibers that rival the performance and cost of the petroleum versions of these composite constituents. But, with rising oil prices and natural gas prices, and the looming effects of climate change primarily fueled by the use of the products from oil and gas extraction industries, more companies and even countries are looking to both agricultural products and organic waste for composite building blocks.

The pics in this post are good examples of the speed with which the industry is moving off of petroleum based precursors and on to bio-based strings and glues (fibers and resins). The pic to the left is from the Alibaba web site. It is of a bio resin made from coffee grounds. They sell this stuff for from $1.68 to $2.68 a kilogram – in metric ton quantities of course – they are in the business to make money and they have a ready supply of raw materials from all of the coffee shops that just throw this stuff in the compost heap.

The pic to right is from the ESA website, and it is a carbon/epoxy composite made entirely from bio-based precursors. ESA is working with companies and Universities in Europe to develop 100% bio-based space qualified composite materials. This is an enormous undertaking since when they began this effort bio-based or natural composites were still in the laboratory and very few had made it much past demonstration parts. They have actually gotten to the point where they have successfully tested and space qualified some 100% bio-based composites. They start with bio-mass that is not specifically grown as a crop for the composites, but rather is a by-product of the agricultural and forest products industries. There is an enormous quantity of this sort of bio-mass that is available from these industries, and now quite a bit goes into landfills or lower level products, not high end, high performance composites. So, they are using used vegetable oil, timber waste, and algae from the ocean to produce space qualified 100% natural bio-based composite materials. A link to the article from ESA is here:

And, of course, there’s a boat pic in there as well. There has to be because I love boats – especially sailboats. This boat hull is made using flax fiber and a bio-based epoxy resin from Sicomin in Marseille, France. The boat is a Greenboats Flax 27 daysailer. Greenboats is a German company that has been working on making boat hulls using flax fiber for a few years now, and this one is their first 100% bio-based natural fiber and resin sailboat hull. The pic is from a February 2020 article in Composites World ( Sicomin makes their GreenPoxy epoxy resin and Greenboats uses natural flax fiber as the reinforcement. They use vacuum infusion to make the hull, and the resin is very nearly clear, so the flax fiber is front and center in the look of this boat.

Finally, I want to talk about the pic to right. This is from the Danish Technological Institute’s Building and Construction page. This center is focused completely on bio-based construction materials. Most of what they do is again based on forest product and agricultural waste. The Institute has experts that provide consultation to the construction and construction materials industries to provide guidance or even techniques for handling the waste stream and converting it into useful building materials that are string and glue based. The oily waste products are used to make resins, and the fibrous waste is used to make fiber reinforcements.

Effectively then, the bio-based composites industry is finally taking off in a big way. All of the major chemical companies in the modern industrialized world are taking notice and have products already on the market in this space. All of these companies know that to stay alive far into the future they have to get off of the petroleum base that they have been living on so far. While quite a bit of the progress has been made in Europe, this is also true of the big chemical conglomerates here in the U.S.


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