BERLIN - At the nature.tec trade show in Berlin earlier this month, wood technology researchers from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute presented a wood fiber form-pressed into components for the automotive industry.

Researchers Progress in Wood Fiber for Automotive Components Carmakers are increasingly counting on fiber reinforced synthetics as lighweight substitutes for steel or aluminum. The fibers embedded into the synthetic give the material increased durability. While primarily carbon fiber is used in Formula 1 racing cars, one drawback is its high price.

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That is why carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRPs), used in airplanes, have still not yet found their way into wide-scale mass production. While glass fibers can be used and are less expensive, they have another drawback: weight.

Now scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research in Braunschweig, Germany, say they have a solution - in natural fibers from hemp, cotton, or wood. Bio-based textile and carbon fibers, are obtain extremely light yet very sturdy components.

Variants derived from hemp, flax, cotton and wood are as affordable as glass fibers, but have a lower density than glass or carbon. Another advantage: If you incinerate them at the end of their life cycle, they produce additional energy – without leaving residues. Hurdles remain: their durability and stability don´t yet reach that of carbon fibers.

”Depending on the application, we are therefore combining carbon with various bio-based textile fibers,” explains Prof. Dr.-Ing. Hans-Josef Endres, head of the Application Center for Wood Fiber Research. The fibers typically exist as fabrics that are placed on each other accordingly and are embedded by the plastic matrix.

The surface of the natural fibers are treated, referred to as "sizing," so that they can be run easily through textile equipment, and can be processed into fabrics. The sizing allows the fibers to bond.

“By ensuring that the fibers bond to the matrix optimally, we can increase the durability of the materials by up to 50 percent,” Endres explains. Researchers are also studying how the processing processes for these new materials can be implemented on an industrial scale.

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