Natural Fibers: The New Fashion In Automotive Composites
In the automotive industry, composites can help reduce aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance and vehicle weight while offering more flexibility in terms of body panel shape than traditional materials, such as metal.
But despite these advantages, the significantly higher cost of materials and manufacture of composites remains one of the biggest hurdles in replacing steel structural elements, particularly in mass-production vehicles, where cost is more important than for high-performance, low-production volume vehicles, where composites are now widely used.
Composites are simply a combination of two or more materials, either natural or artificial, with different physical and chemical properties that perform better together than as individual materials.
The individual component materials do not lose their unique identities entirely: they integrate and impart their most valuable properties to enhance the final product or outcome, such as higher efficiency, strength or durability.
Polymer composites contain reinforcing agents, typically fibers, within a polymer matrix. Such fiber-reinforced composites typically incorporate synthetic fibers, such as glass or carbon fibers, and the polymer matrix is usually a thermoset resin, such as an epoxy or polyester resin, which irreversibly hardens during thermal or chemical curing.
The most widespread and well-known composite for automotive – and aerospace – applications is carbon fiber reinforced polymer.