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Cutting the twist and crimp

Adrian Wilson

The presence of Boeing and Citroen at the latest confrence held by CELC the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp illustrates how seriously the potential of flax and other bast fibre fabrics to replace glass in composites is now being taken.


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10th December 2012

Adrian Wilson
 |  Brussels

Sports/​Outdoor, Protective, Transport/​Aerospace, Sustainable, Interiors, Construction, Civil Engineering, Industrial, Packaging, Agriculture

 

The presence of Boeing and Citroen at the latest confrence held by CELC – the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp – illustrates how seriously the potential of flax and other bast fibre fabrics to replace glass in composites is now being taken.

At the event on December 4th 2012 in Leuven, Belgium, Pedro Martín of Boeing Research and Technology Europe described work with industrial partners on the development of flax-based composites as the basis for future interior aircraft panels. These could replace existing parts which are commonly manufactured from glass fibre and phenolic resins.

As a major partner to Citroen meanwhile, Faurecia of France has patented a new composite material called Flaxpreg which is based on flax nonwovens and is shortly expected to replace the trunk floors of future Citroen cars – currently based on polyurethane and glass. A number of other car interior uses are anticipated.

A partner in both projets is the Belgian flax fabrics specialist Lineo, which has already experienced success in having its flax fibres and fabrics taken up in tennis rackets, skis and fishing rods by the French sporting goods corporation Oxylane (formerly Decathlon).

Oxylane’s Artengo-branded tennis rackets have been particularly successful as a result of the significant vibration reduction the flax contributes to performance.

As explained by Joris Baets and Julie Pariset of CELC at the Leuven meeting, the spinning and weaving processes traditionally involved in the production of linen have been largely bypassed in the production of the latest flax fabrics for composites. The twisting involved in yarn production and the crimp produced by weaving them are in many cases the enemy of effective performance.

Alternatives which have been developed include random nonwoven mats, unidirectional prepregs and comingled rovings, as well as non-crimp fabrics woven directly from rovings. Each of these have their specific end-uses, but the centuries-old mechanical processes of scutching and hackling, doubling and stretching of the flax fibres remain the initial preparation stages.

At present, natural fibres are estimated to have an 11% share of those going into composites, and the stated goal of CELC is to double this to 22% by 2020.

The opportunity this represents was underlined by Frédéric Reux, of French-headquartered JEC Composites.

While still comparatively young – having only really emerged since the 1940s – the value of the worldwide composites market is estimated by JEC to be €77 billion and account for around 550,000 jobs worldwide.

This equates to around 8.7 million tons of finished products, 36% of which are used in North America by value, 33% in Europe and 31% in Asia and the rest of the world.

Founded in 1951, CELC is a non-profit agro-industrial organisation representing some 10,000 member companies in 15 European countries. Its members are involved in all steps of the production of flax and hemp – from cultivation through to transformation, which to date has primarily been into yarns and linen.

CELC’s Technical Section was established to bring together fibre and semi-finished product suppliers, converters and processors in a bid to meet the requirements of technical textile users, with potentially higher added-value natural fibre products.

In 2008, it entered into a joint development agreement with KU Leuven University in Belgium and in 2009 established its European Scientific Committee to promote research and development knowledge and applications to industrial users, and specifically, the manufacturers of composites.

 

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