Composite materials are wonderfully handy -- they can be used in hundreds of applications -- but what about the materials' environmental footprint? Happily, there is a composite material that, when compared to its traditional counterpart, has a much smaller impact, and it can be used for almost anything; I've seen this material being used to construct everything from furniture to parts for cars. FlexForm Technologies has created a line of natural composite materials with a very attractive set of properties.
How is this composite material made?
Following the same principal as other reinforced composites, this non-woven material is made of bio-based fibers such as hemp, kenaf, jute, flax, and sisal. The bios based fibers are mixed in with plastic fiber strands; currently they use polypropylene. When processed under heat and low pressure, the plastic locks the bio-based strands in place, and the flexible felt-like sheet material becomes extremely durable and rigid. That means it can be used to produce everything from compound curves to geometric shapes.
What can composites be used for?
This wonderful versatility means this material can be used in huge variety of applications. Industrial designers are using it to make interior door panels, seat backs, armrests, and consoles and other automotive parts for popular manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Jeep. Architects have used compressed Z-trusses made from FlexForm as a lightweight structure for load floors, wall systems and work surfaces. In its uncompressed state, the mat can be used as an acoustic absorber and sound barrier. The packaging industry takes advantage of its absorbent properties for shipping electronics which are moisture and shock-sensitive. I've also seen it used to make factories floor mats which absorb oil, vibration and noise.
FlexForm can be molded to produce complex or simple 3D parts using low-pressure and mild compression. Fabrics and finishes can be bonded to FlexForm during the molding process, which does away with the need for glues, adhesives and fasteners. The material in a pad form with a continuous length and a maximum width of 10 feet. Similar to traditional composites you have probably seen, this material is low weight with a resistance to warping or shape distortion under extreme temperatures.
Composite recycling pros and cons
FlexForm is reused by re-heating it, which can reshape an existing form or be used to make new material. Quite possibly, its only drawback is the lack of a widespread recycling program. We anticipate this to change as the transportation industry employs more natural-fiber composites into their designs.
More on composite materials
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What Is Syndecrete, Why Do I Want It, And Where Can I Get Some?
Mushroom Spores: The Newest Green Insulation Material
Ecoralia – Constructive Recycling
Materials Monday is a new weekly column written by Matt Grigsby, CEO & Co-founder of Ecolect, where you can discover more about this and other green materials.