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A Case Study of Biocomposite Material Use in Automotive Applications



Interest in biocomposites is growing worldwide as companies that manufacture high-performance products seek out more sustainable material options. Although there is significant research on biocomposite material options and processing found in the literature from at least the last two decades, there are few experimentally based case studies published to help guide product designers and engineers when considering these materials. This paper discusses the use of biocomposites in the seat of an electric bus. Although it is clear that biocomposite material options are quite limited, the authors eventually settled on three natural reinforcements (cellulose, hemp, flax), two epoxies (one low and the other high viscosity) with high biobased carbon content, and one flax precoated with bioepoxy for consideration. Laminate plates with a 4mm nominal thickness are manufactured using VARTM (low viscosity epoxy only), hand layup as a surrogate for prepregging (high viscosity epoxy only), compression molding, and an out-of-autoclave process called the Pressure Focusing Layer (PFL) method. Permeability of the three reinforcements infused with the high viscosity epoxy and fiber volume fractions are determined experimentally to provide insight into VARTM processing and mechanical performance. The tensile modulus, maximum tensile stress, flexural modulus, and maximum flexural stress are measured for all combinations of reinforcement, resin, and processing using tension testing and three-point bending based on ASTM standards. Basic conclusions are drawn about the specific application and more generally about the process of using biocomposites in commercial products.


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