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Hemp biocomposites - the future that is already on the verge


Suitcases made from hemp fiber biocomposite materials

The use of hemp reduces the carbon footprint of the produced product , since it is a living organism, and not a fossil substance harmful to processing. Hemp plants are quite versatile, which means that they can be grown on an industrial scale, providing several industries with raw materials at the same time, processing both the seed and stem parts of the plant . 

Today, in the production of plastic, many manufacturers are faced with a number of problems that can be easily solved using hemp components. For example, in the manufacture of an ordinary suitcase, in order to achieve both its strength and lightness, composite materials from fibers and the wood part of hemp plant are indispensable . Even considering the fact that there are a number of new and quite diverse plastics, it is quite difficult to achieve the maximum set of characteristics identical to hemp bioplastics, including its price. Hemp biocomposite is easy to form into any form necessary for the manufacturer, and the material remains durable and stable. 

Reinforcing materials is not new. There are two most common types of reinforcement that you may have heard about before. “Fiberglass” and “carbon fiber” - mix glass and carbon fibers with polymers to produce durable but lightweight products. For example, cutting-edge canoes and waste bins in Europe are made of fiberglass. Carbon fibers, which are even stronger and lighter, are used in the aerospace and automotive industries. 

Manufacturers are doing everything possible to find the best ways to mix and use materials under certain conditions. They face a number of production issues, the main among which is environmental friendliness, where hemp has advantages over mineral components. 

Since 2006, two researchers from Linköping University in Sweden have been trying to answer one question: how to make a durable and lightweight material such as carbon fiber, which is easier to manufacture and process? Although carbon fiber has exceptional mechanical properties, production is still very energy intensive and difficult to reuse.

Researchers have found the answer to the use of hemp fibers , which are one of the most unique plant materials that mankind knows today. Cannabis plants grow quite tall and thin with a high content of bast fibers , which are extremely durable and flexible. Due to the unique characteristics of hemp fiber , they are ideal for reinforcing polymers and can be widely used in mass production. 

Of course, it cannot be said that the use of hemp fiber in polymers is not associated with a number of problems. Hemp fibers produced in natural conditions often have different characteristics, which leaves its mark on technological processes that involve obtaining the same type of finished product. It is much easier to withstand the requirements for uniformity, using artificial materials for products. 

“Biocomposites” combine something organic - for example, sawdust or fibers - with something artificial, such as plastic, which can be melted and shaped. A combination of plant and plastic has been around for decades. Their main principle is to use products of wood processing or other production during which natural raw materials are obtained as part of composites, cheapening the final product - heaters, biocomposites, building materials, etc. 

The technology underlying the biocomposite based on the use of hemp constituents implies something different and new. Given the properties of hemp fiber , the researchers made the most of its mechanical properties to enhance the strength and market characteristics of the finished product, reduced the cost of biocomposite production, and developed a concept for the integrated use of hemp products. The technology for using hemp fiber in biocomposites was originally conceived as an alternative to carbon fibers in the automotive industry. The work of hemp fiber researchers has shown that their technology can also be applied far beyond the automotive industry. Thus, they realized that many European consumers (especially in Scandinavia) are looking for “environmental” alternatives for all types of products, but in terms of productivity they don’t want to compromise. Thus, a high-performance biocomposite turned out to be a good solution for many types of modern products - from household goods (using "environmentally friendly plastic") to aircraft manufacturing.

Today, plastic production is at the center of environmental debate. The method, production, use, and disposal of plastics is inefficient, unstable, sometimes toxic, and possibly reckless, because we do not know what impact they will have on future generations. This is a complex and ongoing discussion that can and should be led. But there is one main problem: most (not all) plastics are produced by chemical processes associated with the production of fossil fuels. Computers, toys, shampoo bottles, and other products have their roots in the production of fossil fuels. So it is easy to exclude plastic from the lives of most people on the planet. 

Nevertheless, more and more efforts should be made to improve the environment and protect the world around us. When using agricultural fibers , such as hemp, in a mixture of material with ingredients, chemical processes are not required (such as in the manufacture of glass fibers). In addition, the use of hemp reduces the carbon footprint of the produced product, since it is a living organism, and not a fossil substance harmful to processing. Hemp plants are quite versatile, which means that they can be grown on an industrial scale, providing several industries with raw materials at the same time, processing both the seed and stem parts of the plant .

The future is how we today relate to the world around us, and what we invest in it. Hemp fiber biocomposites today help make the right investment in the future, creating a safe world for our children. 

Commentary of the Ukrainian Technical Hemp Association

Issues related to the use of plants as the basis for the production of hemp-based biocomposite materials will be considered during the discussion at the round table " Hemp raw materials - technologies for its use in construction, production of biocomposite materials and furniture ". The event is scheduled for November 12 as part of the “ Hemp University ” on the basis of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine.

"Конопляный Университет" состоится с 6 по 8 апреля 2021 года

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