Sustainable, green manufacturing with natural fibre composites

Alappuzha, Feb 2: Sustainability and biodegradability are keywords in product development today, and the coir sector could ride the wave of this trend by moving from producing mats to manufacturing composite particle boards that have varied applications, according to a European expert.

Prof Raul Fangueiro of the Fibrous Materials Research Group from Portugal’s School of Engineering spoke about the research which began in the noughties in composite reinforcements with natural fibre, creating materials that are low-density, less-hazardous, sustainable, green and economically-viable besides having better specific properties.

Today, they find applications even in car manufacturing and construction industries, he said, while speaking at the international seminar at Coir Kerala 2016 in this coastal city.

“The global natural fibre composites market is set to be worth $5.83 billion in 2019,” said Fangueiro, whose research team in Portugal includes three Indians. “The JEC Composites exhibition in Paris used to have a couple of books in the natural fibre pavilion when it first started. Now, there is an entire pavilion showcasing musical instruments, crash helmets, car body parts and sports goods.”

A new composite application is in combination with concrete, which increases the elasticity of the construction material and prevents cracks, he told delegates at the seminar on ‘Innovative natural fibre-based products: Key challenges, new technologies and future prospects’.

The material also comes with challenges, pointed out the inventor who has 15 patents to his credit. “While biodegradability is good in some instances, it does not work in some applications,” he said. The critical length, the variability in its properties, and lack of interfacial adhesion also make it a delicate material to work with.

“We checked for degradation of natural fibre for temporary applications through soil application and found that coir keeps its properties for longer than other materials,” noted Prof Fangueiro.

Coirfed Managing Director Dr K Madanan, coir manufacturing representative Shri V R Prasad and coir exporters representative Shri Vivek Venugopal took part in the panel discussion, which was moderated by CEO of Alappuzha-based Pelican Biotech and Chemical Labs Dr C N Manoj.

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