Biocomposites put the plant into the auto plant - and more

dency on petroleum. The cost for composite materials can be reduced with large-scale usage. Potential harmful effects related to materials processing and disposal could be eliminated due to their potential biodegradability. MSU researchers at the center are successfully developing and designing bio-plastics as well as new methods for making them economically.

Natural fibers have significant advantages over glass fibers as reinforcements in composite materials, Drzal said. Natural plant fibers, extracted, cleaned and product-ready, cost roughly 25 cents per pound versus 75 cents per pound for glass fiber. Natural fibers have several advantages over traditional glass fibers, including low cost, low density, acceptable specific strength and stiffness, enhanced energy recovery, carbon dioxide sequestration and biodegradability.

The environmental impact is significant beyond the landfill. The high-fiber plants commonly used for composites are easily grown, require few pesticides and can be rotated with traditional food crops. Glass fibers require significant energy outlays for production.

At the ACS conference, the MSU research team presents technological advancements to best turn crops into desktops. Replacing established manufacturing processes will take time. Drzal said the trick will be creating processes that closely duplicate current manufacturing practices - such as producing a thin sheet of bio-composite that could be stamped like sheet metal.

Among MSU Composite Materials and Structures Center papers and posters to be presented at the ACS conference:

Environmentally benign powder impregnation processing and role of novel water-based coupling agents in natural fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites - Paper, 11:20 a.m. Monday, Aug. 27, McCormick Place South, Room S101B, Level 1. This paper offers a look at a new method of processing natural fibers to create biocomposites identified as bio-composite stamp

Contact: Sue Nichols
Michigan State University

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