Biocomposites for Lightweight Vehicles

By Chantal Hunter
August 2013

A new facility in Alberta will soon be generating parts for vehicle interiors made of wood and agricultural fibre, helping to increase fuel efficiency and “green” the auto sector.
Photo of refined wood fibre

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Refined wood fibre

With the help of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), an unlikely source may help contribute to increasing a vehicle’s fuel efficiency by decreasing its weight: Trees.

Based in Drayton Valley, Alberta, Tekle Technical Services Inc.’s (TTS) Biocomposite Group will soon begin production of a new material called an engineered fibre mat (EFM). Made of wood and agricultural fibre residues that would previously have been discarded, EFMs will be used in the manufacture of lightweight parts for vehicle interiors.

In fact, it is estimated within the next two years, the company will convert over 11,000 tonnes of natural fibre materials per year into EFMs. The material may also be a potential “green” substitute for other products such as car exteriors, air filters and home insulation.

Towards Lighter, Greener Vehicles

Photo of truck canopy made with hemp fibre

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Truck canopy made with hemp fibre

Funding from NRCan’s Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program and the Alberta Value-Added Corporation helped TTS to establish the Biocomposite Group manufacturing facility. Using a resin application process developed by the company, EFMs will be converted into usable products.

These products will include interior vehicle doors and panels made from local trees such as aspen, spruce and pine. Agricultural residue from crops such as flax and hemp will also be used to enhance the EFMs.

“Vehicle weight is known to have the highest impact on gas mileage.  Not only are EFM auto trim products lightweight, they are renewable and recyclable,” says Tam Tekle, TTS President & CEO.  “These products have the potential to replace current auto trim which is usually made from heavy, unsustainable fibreglass and reinforced plastics.”

Benefits of EFM

By using renewable natural fibre residuals to replace fibreglass and petrochemical-derived plastics, the EFM plant will reduce air pollutants and GHG emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide. As well, the use of agriculture residue creates potential new income opportunities for local farmers.

“In addition to the ecological benefits, the new plant will contribute direct and indirect economic benefits to the region, including the creation of 15 to 20 new jobs,” says Tam. “This will also have significant impact on the regional forest products industry by creating a new market and higher value for wood fibre that is currently underutilized.”

Photo of auto interior luggage rack made with wood fibre

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Auto interior luggage rack made with wood fibre

The Future of EFM Products

The company has plans to expand use of EFMs into other products such as geotextiles (permeable fabrics used for erosion control), home insulation, air, liquid and gas filters, and noise absorbents. They are also looking to develop a wider variety of automotive parts, including car exterior applications, as well as furniture and building applications.

“TTS’ Biocomposite Group represents the forest product operation of the future,” says Glenn Mason, Director General, Canadian Forest Service (CFS), NRCan. “The potential for biocomposite materials in current markets is almost unlimited and is aiding in the ongoing transformation of Canada’s forestry industry,” he adds.

For more information, visit NRCan’s IFIT site.

To read about related articles, see Forestry Industry.

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