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Increasing demand for European hemp fibres

11
May '10
From a historic point of view, for more than 2,000 years hemp has been an important raw material for industry. Hemp fibres were used for technical textiles such as ropes, hawsers, boat canvas as well as clothing textiles and paper. In the 1990s, hemp was rediscovered throughout the world as an important raw material for bio-based products in a sustainable bioeconomy and ever since then has been in high demand.

The most important cultivation and manufacturing regions are Europe and China, and the most important applications are bio-based composites (natural fibre reinforced plastics) as well as construction and insulation materials. The bio-based materials sector in particular still has large, untapped market potentials for both the reinforcement of mineral oilbased plastics and, to an increasing degree, for bio-based plastics.

Success story automotive industry: Current trends and new applications
In the year 2005 - more recent data is not available - 30,000 tons of natural fibre composites (EU: 40,000- 50,000 t), wood not included, were used in the automotive industry, requiring 19,000 tons of natural fibres (EU: 30,000 t). European flax (about 65%) and hemp (about 10%) were used, with the remaining 25% covered by imports from Asia (jute, kenaf, coir, abaca). Natural fibre compression moulding is the dominant processing technique (share of > 95%), it is an established and proven technique for the production of extensive, lightweight and high-class interior parts in medium and luxury class cars. Advantages are lightweight construction, crash behaviour, deformation resistance, lamination ability, depending on the overall concept, and also price.

The disadvantages are limited shape and design forming, off-cuts, and cost disadvantages in the case of high part integration in construction parts. These advantages and disadvantages are well known. Process optimisation is in progress,in order to reduce certain problem areas such as offcuts and to recycle wastage. By means of new one-shot compression moulding presses, soft surfaces can also be directly integrated, something that has not been possible so far with injection moulding.

Between 2005 and 2009, the use of natural fibres in the European automotive industry did not expand, and in Germany even slightly decreased, after it had grown in double-digit figures each year between 2000 and 2005. Since 2009, however, there has been an increasing demand again: new models from almost all automotive companies that will be released on the market this or next year do have considerably more interior parts, made once again with natural fibre reinforcement. On the one hand this is due to the high development of the materials and the fact they have proven themselves in practice, but on the other hand it is also due to the increasing interest by the automotive industry in bio-based materials and lightweight construction – in both fields, natural fibre construction parts can score. In addition, further cost and weight reductions were achieved in recent years especially with regard to compression moulding.


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