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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

Final Report Summary - 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.)

Executive Summary:
The main objective of NATURTRUCK was to develop injected plastic parts for the commercial vehicles industry (mainly cabin truck parts) made with thermoplastic composite materials from renewable resources (at least 80% w/w), namely physically modified polylactic acid (PLA) grades 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 availability of PLA with improved properties and optimised production process allowed to fabricate new thermoplastic biocomposite products suitable to satisfy the commercial vehicles manufacture sector stringent mechanical, thermal, fire resistance and eco-friendliness requirements, at a cost comparable to current ABS price, increasing their differentiation from competitors and creating significant market opportunities.
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 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.

In the following table there are collected the expected objectives achieved along the project implementation. (see the table in the attachement)

Project Results:
This information is presented below more detail and on a WP basis:
please see the tables prepared in the attachment for this purpose
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. 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 allows 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 means 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, allowed 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.

For the initial economical evaluation and taking into account that RENAULT (Volvo Group) produces around 70,000 trucks each year, which means a consumption of thermoplastics in the inner truck parts of around 1700 tn of NATURTRUCK parts per year was estimated. Considering the use of the compound in parts of four different models of Volvo trucks and a possible introduction in other similar sectors, as automotive, naval, trains, etc. Table 3.1 calculations are focused on those partners who will benefit more directly from the project results: PLA, natural additive producers, mould and injected parts manufacturers, compounders and MW or IR heating ovens manufacturers. The following considerations were made:
Table 3.1 Economic impact estimations for NATURTRUCK partners. (see attachment)
To calculate the turnover and benefit of the PLA, natural additives supplier and compounders, the cost calculation of the PLA biocomposite and the percentage of each component of the best material formulation was used.
Considering an estimated growth of plastic consumption in the selected sector of 3% p.a. table 3.2 shows the market penetration over the first 5 years of the compounder production, the approximate annual turnover and the profit calculated assuming that it is 15% of the turnover is 12.9 M€ and 1.9M€ respectively. For plastic converters, medium clamp force injection moulding machine cost could be estimated in 40 €/h.
Table 3.2 Economic impact estimations for compounding company (see attachment)

If they are capable to produce 7.3 Million parts/year of an average 229 g/part, according to the results obtained in the parts produced in NATURTRUCK project. The use of the NATURTRUCK technology will represent for injection mould and mould makers of 5.2M€ turnover and a direct return of 0.8 M€ within 5 years. A standard injection moulding machine processes around 45 t/year . A standard continuous oven cost is estimated in 75,000 €, this means a turnover of 3.4 M€ and 0.5 M€ of industrial benefit in the same period.
Adding all the figures which have been calculated, (Table 3.1) we will obtain a direct return of 3,6M€ over the 5-year period. This means an approximate return on investment ratio of 2.4 for the involved partners over the 5-year period, considering the total cost of the project (~1.5 M€, including the EU funding).
All the partners expect to improve their competitive position in their own markets. It is important to highlight that the environmental costs have not been included in these calculations but they are even much more significant for the society as a whole.
Bioplastics have the additional advantage of using renewable resources. This does not necessarily go along with an advantage over conventional plastics, but it has often proven advantageous when the criteria "consumption of fossil resources" and "reduction of CO2 emissions" are being assessed. Using agricultural resources also allows a regional closed loop management. Especially in countries with lack of humus (arid- zones), compostability offers an additional advantage, as allow the production of compost, which can be used as fertiliser and substrate to improve soil quality.
As a result of the project the SMEs are owners of the following IPR:
• New fibre treatments based on combination of chemical and physical methods
• High performance natural antioxidants for the protection of biocomposites for car industry.
• Biocomposites based on PLA, natural fibres and additives with improved thermal and mechanical properties.
• Biocomposites based on PLA, halogen free flame retardants with improved fire resistance.
• Continuous oven design and methodology for biocomposites part annealing.

As agreed among the Consortium partners the IPR will be protected as an Industrial Secret, the ownership will be distributed as collected in the table “Type of Exploitable Foreground”


List of Websites:
Coordinator: AIMPLAS - Instituto Tecnológico del Plástico
C/ Gustave Eiffel, 4 (València Parc Tecnològic)
46980 - PATERNA (Valencia) – SPAIN
Tlf. (+34) 96 136 60 40
Email: proyectos@aimplas.es