In the automotive industry in particular, but also in aerospace, rail transport and shipping, efficient lightweight construction solutions are playing an increasingly significant role. These reduce the total weight and therefore contribute towards saving energy and reducing emissions. To date, lightweight construction using fiber-reinforced plastics has primarily utilized carbon fibers. Carbon fibers offer very good stiffness and strength, but their production requires fossil resources and a large amount of energy. Technical challenges exist concerning handling, repair and recycling.
Currently, natural fibers made from flax, hemp, wood or jute are moving into focus as a sustainable alternative. The use of renewable raw materials is also interesting from an economic point of view, as natural fibers are cheaper than carbon fibers. Although, in comparison, natural fibers have lower stiffness and strength values, these values are nevertheless sufficient for many applications. Due to their natural structure, they dampen sound and vibration better. Their lesser tendency to splinter can help reduce the risk of injury in accidents. In addition, they do not cause skin irritation during processing.
In this project, we are developing lightweight body parts made from natural fiber-reinforced plastic for automotive construction. Our aim is to use the biogenic proportion to improve the ecological balance of industrial high-performance composites during the manufacturing, use and disposal phases. We take a holistic view of the supply chain: from the definition of the requirements profile, through the optimization of the individual material constituents and component structures, on to the practical testing and the characterization of possible property changes during the utilization phase. In the final step of the project, we will apply our manufacturing process on a pilot-plant scale in order to demonstrate how industrial large-scale production could look. In addition to upscaling approaches for the components to be produced in higher quantities, we will thereby also consider recovery strategies and recycling concepts.
The test vehicle in the current project phase is a Porsche Cayman GT 4 Clubsport. In cooperation with the project partners Porsche Motorsport and the Four Motors racing team, we are identifying components of the outer skin made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and replacing them with natural fiber-reinforced plastic (NFRP). In collaboration with the project partners, these parts are then redesigned, tested in practice on the racetrack as a supplement to standardized test procedures, and subjected to a life-cycle analysis (LCA) and economic evaluation within the framework of a small series. The NFRP components in their new design must not exceed the weight of an equivalent component made from CFRP. Furthermore, they must meet the technical requirements of the component in a cost-neutral manner and, in the best case, exhibit reduced CO2 emissions.