"As we see an increase in crude oil prices, there is potential for petroleum prices to keep going up and we might get a better cost advantage with the renewable resource materials," she says. "The second advantage is using a product that grows agriculturally, is a sustainable materials that is renewable. It supports the local crops."
Along with the foams, the other main thrust of the team’s work has been the development of natural fibers as replacement for the fiberglass now used as reinforcement material in sheet molding compounds, which are used in body panels, grill openings and other components.
Dr. Deborah F. Mielewski, the technical leader of the team, explains that natural fiber composites offer numerous advantages over their glass counterparts.
"The natural fibers are certainly less expensive than glass fibers," said Mielewski. "So we expect the cost reduction. We hope that the materials will cost less, and we use a lower mass of materials because it's lighter weight material."
She added that the fibers also offer advantages to workers who have to deal with the glass.
"Glass is difficult to handle, and people suffer respiratory issues when they handle glass," said Mielewski. "So we're hoping that, in the plant, the natural fibers will provide advantages for health."
Certainly a step in the right direction.
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