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Interest in bio-based auto parts revs up


October 1, 2012
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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The Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy (CRIBE) is partnering with a supplier of automotive parts and systems on a project to integrate wood fibre into plastic and composite parts. Magna Exteriors and Interiors plans to…

The Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy (CRIBE) is partnering with a supplier of automotive parts and systems on a project to integrate wood fibre into plastic and composite parts.
Magna Exteriors and Interiors plans to develop high-volume process and product technology that integrates wood fibres and Canadian-sourced pulp into its automotive parts.
Currently, Magna moulds a number of components and sub-systems using long glass-filled polypropylene (LGFPP) for global automotive manufacturers.
In certain applications wood fibre can substitute for glass fibre while still providing the required mechanical and physical properties and offering a lower cost and lighter weight option.
In a second phase of this project, the knowledge gained from using wood fibre will be transferred to high-volume consumer and industrial products.
“The dual challenges our industry faces to reduce the cost and weight of auto parts can be addressed in part with high performance wood fibre reinforced plastics,” said William Harney, executive director, research and development, for Magna Exteriors and Interiors.
CRIBE is investing $1.3 million in this technology. The government of Alberta, through Alberta Innovates-Bio Solutions, is also supporting this project. Magna also plans to collaborate with Alberta Bio-materials Development Centre (ABDC), Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures and the National Research Council (NRC) to develop the technology.
Ford Motor Company is also investigating the use of natural fibres, including wood fibre, in automotive parts.
“The market potential is huge,” says Ellen Lee, a technical expert in plastics research at Ford. A typical vehicle contains 300 lb. of plastic and composites. Natural fibres with high mechanical properties could replace talc and glass fibre as a reinforcing agent. Other fibres could serve as a filler, reducing the volume of petroleum-based resin.
Lee attended a meeting of FPAC’s Bio-pathways Partnership Network recently in Toronto, and noted: “This meeting has been helpful because it brought to our attention lignin and bio-based chemicals.
“If we can start from the chemical precursors, then we know how to work with them.”

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