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Flax based thermoplastic biocomposites products for marine applications

SeaBioComp announced that it has successfully produced a number of demonstrator products for the marine environment, using different manufacturing processes, to showcase its flax based thermoplastic biocomposites. SeaBioComp is a collaborative project under European Union, with the aim to develop and produce novel bio-based thermoplastic composite materials and the analytical protocols to evaluate long-term durability and reduced ecological impact on the marine environment.

Project partners in the team, including research organisations, textile and composite specialists, universities, and cluster organisations, have been working together for the past 3 years to develop, mechanically test and research a number of biobased formulations using different manufacturing techniques.

Two different kinds of biocomposites have been developed by the consortium; a self-reinforced PLA-composite which has been made into a variety of non-woven and woven fabrics suitable for use in compression moulding, and a flax reinforced polylactide (PLA) or Polymethyl methacrylate  (PMMA) reinforced composite for use via RIFT (Resin infusion under flexible tooling) , compression moulding and additive manufacturing.

Extensive testing of the mechanical properties of the various bio-composites has concluded that these materials are close to and in some instances perform better than conventional non-bio-based composites (sheet moulded composite, SMC) currently in use in the marine environment today. The new bio-based products have been shown to use the same compression moulding conditions as conventional products and sometimes the process cycle time, can be shorter.

The project has shown that the combination of thermoplastic polymers, natural fibres and 3D printing technologies can result in technically complex designs and applications being produced for the marine environment. A number of initial prototype products, including a fender and other port structures have successfully been produced using 3D printing; scale model offshore wind turbine blades manufactured via monomer infusion under flexible tooling (MIFT) and complex curved structures using compression moulding techniques
The project has released a series of technical leaflets detailing the various production methods using self-reinforced biocomposites and flax based biocomposites for marine applications, including compression moulding, monomer infusion and additive manufacturing. These technical leaflets will be of interest to manufacturers of marine products as well as supply chain companies and the academic sector and are available as downloads from the project
In addition, the project has also determined whether these bio-based self-reinforced polylactic acid (SRPLA) products are suitable for use in the marine environment from a durability and microplastic formation perspective. A new paper, published in Polymer Testing, Science Direct discusses the potential for SRPLA to be considered a promising material for sustainable marine applications
The motivation for the project is to reduce the use of fossil-based materials in the marine sector by developing bio-based composites that have long-term durability with reduced CO2 emissions and environmental impact on the marine ecosystem. Early research in the project identified flax as the most suitable natural plant fibre to be used as reinforcement in the bio composite. During growth, flax absorbs a lot of CO2 and ‘cleans’ the soil through phytoremediation.

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