Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

Natural Composite Sheets and Method of Forming Panels from such Composites

Technology #5653

Researchers from the University of Michigan Mechanical Engineering Department have developed a technology that allows for scalable mass production of natural fiber composites. The first portion of the technology provides a method for scalable production of natural fiber reinforced thermoplastic sheets. These pre-preg sheets form the basis for the second portion of the technology, which is a method for forming multiple sheets into a composite with the desired shape. This process will produce high strength, low weight panels that can be used in a range of applications from automotive interior and exterior panels to furniture. The first process allows for the addition of chemical additives for treatment of the natural fibers to increase strength and other desirable properties. This technology differs from existing methods, in that all steps in both methods use tools and techniques that are easily scalable to large volume mass production. Many different fibers can be used, such as the very high strength bamboo fibers, and a variety of plastics can be added to the composite.

Natural Fiber Composites Composite materials offer very high strength to weight ratios, making them desirable across many industries. The high cost and adverse environmental impact of existing fibers, such as e-glass and carbon fiber drive the desire to switch to natural fiber composites that use non-synthetic fiber material. These offer the benefit of high strength to weight ratio, but in an eco-friendly, lower cost material. The challenge limiting the adoption of these composites is that the manufacturing processes in place do not provide adequate economies of scale, placing mass production of these composites at too high of a cost. With a natural fiber reinforced composite market of over $2B in 2010, growing at 10% CAGR to $3.8B in 2016, the market potential for scalable mass production of natural fiber composites is extensive.

Applications • Automotive paneling • Structural components for lightweight automotive • Furniture • Decking and building paneling

Advantages • Scalable manufacturing • High strength to weight ratio • Eco-friendly, recyclable material