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17th August 2017, UK

Escalating opportunities for natural and wood fibres

Michael Carus, managing director, nova-Institute GmbH. © nova-Institute GmbH

Interview with Michael Carus, managing director, nova-Institute GmbH.

Inside Composites: Would you please briefly outline the nova-Institut’s activities and goals for Inside Composites readers?

Michael Carus: nova-Institute is a research institute working in the field of the bio-based economy, which includes all kinds of biocomposites. Our services are life cycle assessments (LCA), techno-economic evaluations (TEE) and especially market research. We have many customers from the automotive and construction industry as well as those in consumer goods.

You will speak on new developments in biocomposites and bio-based plastics for the automotive industry at the forthcoming bioCAR! Conference in Stuttgart on September 20-21st. Where are such products currently employed on vehicles?

MC: Several biocomposites with natural and wood fibres are established in the automotive industry. These are especially press moulded interior parts with natural and wood fibres and petrochemical thermoplastics or thermosets. Here we see a continuous improvement in light-weight properties. There are also new materials made with a combination of press moulding and injection moulding. The use of bio-based polymers is also increasing.

What are the benefits these products can provide?

MC: Light-weight construction at reasonable costs and low carbon footprint are the main advantages.

Fibrowood. © Yanfeng

What is the approximate size of the market at present for automotive bio-composites and bio-based plastics?

MC: Today we see about 100,000 tonnes of bio-based materials in the automotive industry, mainly biocomposites. The potential is much higher – several hundred thousand tonnes.

What obstacles are there to their further adoption?

MC: Mainly the costs. With increasing crude oil prices, the demand for bio-based solutions will grow fast.

Currently, there’s a big push towards electric vehicles, and in the longer term, autonomous/self-driving cars. How will this impact on developments?

MC: In a very positive way. For electric, vehicles light-weight construction is even more important and also there is more of a focus on low carbon footprint than with conventional cars.

Fibroline. © EcoTechnilin

The nova-Institut’s own 7th Biocomposites Conference on wood and natural fibre is to take place in Cologne on December 6-7 2017. What progress is being made in markets other than automotive?

MC: This conference will be the biggest on biocomposites worldwide and we expect over 300 participants and more than 30 exhibitors. Next to the automotive industry, construction is the main market, but also consumer products. Recently, however, they have started to enter several additional markets. Companies are specifically using wood and natural fibre plastic granulates in consumer goods such as instruments, electronic casings, furniture, tables, toys, combs or trays as well as 3D printed goods – the unique look and haptics convey high quality and value and are well received by customers. There are many opportunities for these niche materials to soon achieve large-scale production. Natural fibres can also give 3D-printed plastic parts a higher value.

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