Since the early 70’s, composite materials have conquered almost all sectors of the industry. Synthetic and ceramic fibres have taken a significant part in reinforcement materials, becoming essential for countless applications. These synthetic fibres (glass, carbon, aramid,…) benefit from specific technical characteristics that have induced standards of design and implementation of composite parts.
The stakes for the use of flax fibres are mainly aimed at sectors where it will be possible to change the paradigm taking into account their remarkable intrinsic properties (vibration damping, electromagnetic transparency, low density…).
Flax fibres are derived from a renewable resource. They are naturally light and have good mechanical properties. They offer thermal and acoustic comfort and are transparent to electromagnetic waves. They naturally absorb vibrations.
The regulatory context favours the replacement of materials of fossil origin by biobased materials. These materials are naturally preferred in eco-design, low-consumption buildings and generally in all sustainable development models.
Of course, reinforcements based on natural fibres must find their place in a market ruled by low prices and large volumes. Moreover, the reluctance to change ranges and production methods proves to be a real challenge for the emergence of this Green reinforcement economy.
1 - Automotive
The automotive sector is dealing with vegetable fibres for many years and already incorporates this type of fibre inside the vehicles. In fact, there are flax fibres in the form of non-wovens as lining inside the doors, or as a rear track of some vehicles. Some models use vegetable fibers also in injected parts, such as tank plugs or mirror supports. The infatuation of natural fibres in the automobile has been booming in the years 2008- 2009, mainly for problems of structural lightening in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Since then, the behaviour of the constructors has been based on the evolution of regulations in an effort to take advantage of the remarkable properties of vegetal fibres, and in parts with higher added value. Their attention is particularly focused on semi-structural reinforcements, and, in the future, on structural parts.
2 - Wind turbine
France has relied on wind energy in its objectives of the French Grenelle, Agreement that targets the installation of 19 GW of onshore and 6 GW offshore wind turbines on the Horizon 2020. Beyond these objectives, the industrial and job creation objectives are crucial, to the extent of global growth potential, with installed capacity scenarios of 2 000 GW in the 2050 horizon, including 600 GW in Europe. France has many subcontractors, which are not very visible but are present in the international value chain, a potential for diversification for many players in the automotive, naval and aerospace industries. If we add the potential of R & D and logistical capabilities, France has all the elements necessary to aspire to a place of world leader in wind technologies on the Horizon 2020-2030.
The target markets are mainly the standard 2 to 3 MW terrestrial wind turbine equipped with large rotor (hub + blades). They are the vast majority of the land Park installed. The commercial potential is the strongest in the 2030 horizon. The introduction of natural fibres in the reinforcements of the blades will allow to respond to a will for lightening by retaining the reinforcement properties. Biosourced composites with good fire behaviour will also find their place in the realization of the wind turbine engine protection nacelles.
3 - Naval & Boating
The maritime sector is a market for which construction standards are most stringent and are based mainly on the use of steel. However, there are niches that are increasingly exploited by composite materials, in which their lightness, their behaviour towards external aggressions, their aesthetics make them the more and more indispensable. These niches reside mainly in ships below 100 ft long and which are not intended for international navigation, passenger transport vessels (cruise, ferry…), working ships (Coast Guard, oceanographic, fishing…) and Boating (sailing and engines).
At the present time, composite materials are not included in naval achievements. Their use would represent barely 1% of all materials used.
Military ships are not included in these figures. They are not subject to the regulations of the International Maritime Organization. As a result, there may be an interest in composite materials in particular for design parts or more technical parts (transparent to electromagnetic waves, radar and sonar shells for frigate vessels, submarine).
For the Naval, the directly addressable market elements are the Interior fittings of passenger transport vessels comprising cabins (liners, cruisers) and for which advances in terms of design, functionality ( possibility of integrating functions into composites) are real chances of taking market shares..
4 - Railways
The railway market is based on two very different trades, the rolling stock (locomotives and motorised cars, passenger cars, freight car) and infrastructures (rail network allowing the circulation, control and regulation of circulating trains). The "infrastructure" market is mainly based on the provision of beacon protection enabling communication between beacons and circulating trains on Rails. The beacons transmit the speed and positioning instructions allowing the odometry (technique to estimate the position of a moving vehicle) of the train and the good regulation of traffic. These beacons contain an electronic allowing the radio transmission of the setpoint data to the train and the train to a centralization at the control and regulating station. As such, these protective parts must comply with EN 45 545-2 standards for fire and fume behaviour. The market for the rail transmission beacon is global.
Access to the “Rolling Stock” market is much more difficult to access than the market for infrastructure. Railway construction is traditionally based on the use of metal and it is very difficult to move the lines, however, like all other rolling vehicles, trains are also affected by the need for weight loss, not this only for energy-saving needs, but especially for the best preservation of infrastructure. A less heavy train will tire less the lines and maintenance of the lines is an important position of the operators “infrastructure”. Very schematically, we can distinguish two great natures of parts, working parts (or structure) supporting important stresses for which the safety aspect is fundamental. This sector concerns high-performance or structural composites and non-working or semi-working parts (or even called trim parts) that are made with so-called “large-diffusion” composites. It is in this last area that the penetration rate to come is the most important for vegetable fibres.
5 - Buildings
The building sector is closely observing the evolution of the vegetal fibre reinforcement market, due to the soundproofing and thermal insulation properties of the fibres and their mechanical performance, in a context of improved performance of the construction and replacement of the chemical fibres by natural fibres. Potential opportunities for flax fibres can be classified into two large families: products using cut raw flax fibres (reinforcement of concrets or mortars by short plant fibres in the manufacture of concrets structural or prefabricated facings) and those using reinforcements made of long fibres for the renovation and reinforcement of buildings, as well as the structural profiles.
6 - Industry
For prospects of lightening and reducing the environmental impact of aircraft, aerospace industrialists are closely interested in plant fibres. The objective is to introduce disruptive technologies in order to significantly increase the environmental performance of aircraft, particularly in terms of noise reduction and fuel consumption. The use of flax fibres as reinforcement for furniture inside airplanes appears as one of these breaking innovations. These potentially important opportunities for flax fibres should be integrated into aircraft in the 2025 horizon. For these applications, industrialists are looking for reinforcements mastered in terms of weight and formability, and with stable properties for the lifetime of the aircraft.
This sector uses the radiotransparency of flax fibre. Coupled with the good thermomechanical performance of flax fibre reinforcements and their lightness, these fibres appear to be particularly suitable for radome applications, the objective of which is to protect on-board radars without altering or mitigating information transmissions (geolocation, satellite guidance…). The radomes are for passenger and industrial vehicles (mobile radomes used on board airplanes, motorhomes, trucks and boats), military defence (mobile radomes embedded in planes, drones or military vehicles), telecommunication, meteorology (fixed radomes for the protection of weather radars), logistics (protection of RFID Antennas) and the railway sector.
c. Furniture, design
The toxicity of materials generally used in the furniture sector prevents the recycling of products at the end of their life. Thus, the furnishing waste deposit is estimated at 1.7 million tons per year, or 26 kg per French citizen, of which only 25% are actually recycled. In addition, these artificial chemicals that surround us, emanate from the latter and degrade the quality of indoor air in housing and collective reception centres. This deterioration would have, according to recent studies, an impact on the health of the inhabitants.
1 There are now viable alternatives to materials used in the furniture industry. The production and use of bioplastics (PLA for example) are considered to be sustainable activities in comparison with the production petrol-based materials, as they rely less on fossil fuels as a source of carbon and less net effect during biodegradation. They also significantly reduce the spread of hazardous waste and thus open a new era in furniture technologies. These materials can be strengthened by natural fibres in order to reduce the volumes of plastics used, while ensuring mechanical performance adapted to the area concerned. In particular, flax fibres have many advantages for the reinforcement of composite materials (good mechanical properties, low density, biodegradability and reasonable production costs), while being manufactured and transformed locally without any addition of chemicals.
d. Sports and Leisure
The sports and leisure sector is very dynamic for the deployment of the use of vegetal fibres (ecological aspect: respect for the environment and natural product). Many companies have ongoing work on the use of flax fibres in their products. Even if the potential volumes remain relatively modest, the number of addressable outlets allows to consider substantial volumes in this sector. The athletic footwear market takes advantage of the damping capabilities of fibre vibrations, which make it possible to use linen reinforcements in running shoe soles. The camping car market (interior design) is looking for properties of acoustic and thermal comfort, lightening and aestheticism. Flax fibre reinforcements are therefore good candidates for this sector. For the musical instruments market, the sound boards of stringed acoustic instruments such as violins or guitars can be made of composite material, insofar as the material brings a richness or a peculiarity to the restored sound.
The identified markets require for most industrial validations and a number of locks will have to be lifted to see the development of natural fibres in these sectors, including:
• Economic positioning
• Identification and characterization of the remarkable properties of flax fibres, which will allow their use in sectors where the use of other fibres is not justified • Good control of the quality of Reinforcements
• A good knowledge of ageing mechanisms
• Solutions for fire/smoke classifications
• Optimization of the industrial processes of implementation in order to take advantage of the intrinsic properties of flax fibres, and a deployment of the implementation conditions through detailed process sheets
• Production capacities and reactivity that can only be achieved by short industrial cycles
• Standardization and certification of the process.