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  • Periodic Report Summary 2 - NATURTRUCK (Development of a new Bio-Composite from renewable resources with improved thermal and fire resistance for manufacturing a truck internal part with high quality surface finishing.)

NATURTRUCK Report Summary

Project ID: 605658
Funded under: FP7-SME
Country: Spain

Periodic Report Summary 2 - NATURTRUCK (Development of a new Bio-Composite from renewable resources with improved thermal and fire resistance for manufacturing a truck internal part with high quality surface finishing.)

Project Context and Objectives:
FP7 NATURTRUCK project that deals with renewable materials in the Truck Sector is undoubtedly increasing reflecting a real need, so it is indispensable the adaptation of the truck suppliers to this new situation, in order to be able to offer products according to the customer’s philosophy, mainly based on thermoplastic biocomposites. Therefore, manufacturers of plastic components, mainly SMEs, face a technically complex challenge.
Following this approach, NATURTRUCK will solve the current technical limitations of thermoplastic biocomposites related to highly restrictive regulations and stringent specifications imposed by the truck industry, while maintaining a competitive cost in comparison with petrochemical based polymers used nowadays. The achievement of NATURTRUCK objectives will demonstrate the possibilities of polymer thermoplastic composites from renewable resources to be used in applications demanding high technical requirements at a competitive cost.
Therefore the main objective of NATURTRUCK is to develop injected plastic parts for the commercial vehicles industry (cabin truck parts) made with polylactic acid (PLA) composite materials from renewable resources (at least 80wt%) and natural fibres, with improved thermal and flame retardancy properties and high quality surface finishing to be used in truck internal parts as a real alternative to low-gloss standard ABS grades at a competitive cost.
The main innovation of NATURTRUCK in comparison with previous projects is the possibility to tailor the properties of commercial PLA grades by a synergic combination of different types of additives and reinforcements (radiation susceptors, chain extenders, flame retardants and natural fibres) and post-annealing techniques based on non-conventional high frequency energy sources. This challenge makes NATURTRUCK a real "beyond of the estate of art" project, due to the smart combination of technologies and materials employed, which will permit for instance to increase the rate and percentage of the crystalline phase in the PLA biocomposite and in consequence to increase its thermal resistance and mechanical properties.
Project Results:
Chemical and physical treatments were developed to produce natural fibres (flax, hemp and Kenaf) with minimal physical and chemical damage, suitable for PLA biocomposites formulations for injected truck parts. The fibres were modified by combination of silanization method enhanced with fire retardants and plasma treatment. Using this methodology the flammability of natural fibres was reduced, the Maximum Heat Release Rate was reduced by over 50% in treated hemp fibres.
Based on the results of the investigations, the process for modification of hemp fibres was optimized.
Flame retardant PLA / hemp biocomposites were obtained by means of the compounding process in a twin screw extruder. The composites were injection moulded and characterized. The biocomposites achieved the mechanical and thermal requirements for the case study “bracket”, whereas an additional improvement in impact strength needs to be made for the case study “foot rest”.
PLA biocompounds with natural extracts rich in polyphenols (natural antioxidants) were carried out, the results showed and improvement of the thermal stability of the compounds and a comparable performance to commercial antioxidants after injection moulding.
Injected parts of PLA/hemp biocomposites were annealed using infrared (IR) as energy source. After the annealing treatment the crystallinity of injected biocomposites was improved from 30% to > 50%, and therefore the HDT(B) from 56ºC to >100ºC.
The case study parts “bracket” and “footrest” were obtained using NATURTRUCK biocomposites by injection moulding. The parts were annealed successfully both at laboratory and pilot plant scale without the need of using IR susceptors. A silicon master was built to hold the part during the annealing treatment.
The production and pelletization of treated hemp fibres was scaled up to 20kg. The pelletized fibres will be used in subsequent compounding process to obtain the case study parts in an industrial environment.
The biodegradability and ecotoxicity of Naturtruck biocomposites was evaluated. The plasticized PLA / hemp biocomposite formulation showed positive biodegradability results with no alteration of the quality of the final compost.
An early economic evaluation was carried out. Results showed that the case study parts are more expensive using the developed biocomposites (14% for bracket and 18% for footrest) compared with conventional FR ABS. However the increment in the final cost seems reasonable and it could be affordable for end-users, due to the added value of using a more ecologic plastic.
Potential Impact:
The impact for the participating SMEs and their members will result in an improvement of the competitiveness of the SMEs and the sectors concerned; commercial vehicles and vehicle manufacturers sector, plastic sector, biocomposites and natural fibres sectors.
NATURTRUCK results will contribute to maintain and/or improve the SMEs leadership in EU, specifically within the plastic and commercial vehicles sector, opening a new market opportunity to existing SMEs or fostering the creation of new ones. In particular, regarding the EU plastics industry, more than 1.6 million people are working in about 50,000 companies (mainly SMEs in the converting sector) to create a turnover over 280 billion € per year. The EU converters used 52 million tonnes of plastics in 2011. From them, the 8% is used in automotive industry (more than 4,2 Mt) and the ABS and PC/ABS consumption is around 9% , representing a potential market of 378 kt/year for the NATURTRUCK partners.
Natural fibres (NFs): Flax and hemp hold second rank position in the global production of natural fibres (150kt in 2009 ). Both are traditional EU crops nowadays at risk. Projects as NATURTRUCK focused on enlarging the capability to employ natural fibres for industrial applications is a key for this industry. According to the EU Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), only 4.1% of flax production and 12.9% of hemp productions are used for composites. Nowadays the main reinforced fibre used is the glass fibre, which are energy intensive in production, heavy (double density than natural fibre), could cause human injuries (irritations and cuts) and difficult to recycle. These two natural fibres, flax and hemp have been chosen because they offer competitive advantages regarding technical performance and because, the impact at EU level will be significant. NATURTRUCK will allow a notorious scientific advance due to the development of new biocomposites adapted to the automobile industry, being potentially patentable due to their worldwide scientific and technical innovative character.
High performance PLA biocomposites: This will mean a clear scientific advance, presenting properties of hydrolysis and thermal resistance, low volatile emission and mechanical characteristics comparable to oil-based technical polymers such as ABS or PC/ABS used currently in the truck industry. Project goals are the development of new PLA biocomposites based on the optimisation of a synergic combination of different additives and fillers, with the aim to overcome the current limitations of the PLA: thermal and fire resistance, ageing, mechanical properties, etc.
The fact of not only developing biocomposites but also adapting their processing method to their own peculiarities, will allow obtaining valid samples, maximizing their properties and process ability by means of increase their crystallinity. Therefore, the potential application of biopolymers will be even increased in the truck sector and other sectors with similar requirements such as automotive, electric-electronic, telecommunications, aeronautic, defence, household appliances, etc.
On the other hand, the recycling rate for truck plastics waste is lower than 8% in 2008. This recycling rate is rather low in comparison with other sectors (average around 20%) due to the difficulty to separate individual plastics from vehicles shredded at the end of their useful lives. Most of these residues (approx. 20% w/w) are land filled, without considering alternative valorisation routes. The use of biopolymers with less embodied energy and with capacity of biodegradation could be a solution to reduce the car shredder residues going to landfill, as the plastic waste can be composted.
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