Composites Manufacturing Magazine recently published an article about the multiple applications of natural fibers and bioresins. Alejandrina Campanella, Dixie Chemical’s Thermoset and Bio-Based Material Platform Leader, contributed to the article and described how Dixie is making the change towards bioresins in the manufacturing industry.
A Natural Shift in Composites Manufacturing
From crops to auto parts – biocomposite materials are being used more frequently in many manufacturing industries. Biocomposite materials are derived from natural fibers, such as wood, cork, linen, flax, hemp or bamboo, or from bio-based resins (bioresins).
The optical and haptic properties of natural fibers are where the benefits lie. Natural materials allow composites to cool faster, thereby reducing the cycle time in injection molding. Natural fiber composite manufacturing is also better for the environment, lowering the carbon footprint by up to 50% (as compared to GFRP composite manufacturing).
The biocomposites market is expected to grow almost 8% over the next five years, leading to over $7 billion in value.
Bio-based composites can benefit many industries, although much of the current interest (and demand) is coming from the transportation industry. Top vehicle manufacturers like Ford, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar already use biocomposites, in the vehicle interiors, such as seat backs, carpeting, door panels and insulation. Biocomposites are also used in sporting goods, like tennis rackets, snowboards and bicycles. And bioresins have found a place in the construction industry, specifically in n windows, doors, insulation and other building products.
Dixie Leads the Way in Bioresins
Dixie Chemical has been working with bioresins since 2011. They prefer plant oils over biofibers because plant oils are consistent in performance and easier to work with. They have found that, in most cases, the composite manufacturing process for bio-based composites is not much different than oil-based composites. Dixie primarily works with palm, soybean and linseed oils based on their cost and availability.
Currently, Dixie is producing two lines of bioresins: MASEO (from soybeal oil) and MAELO (from linseed oil feedstocks). Just like traditional unsaturated polyester resins, MASEO and MAELO contain a reactive diluent such as styrene or vinyl toluene.
Dixie also produces a methacrylated fatty acid (MFA) derived from palm, coconut and soybean oils. This MFA can then replace all or some of the styrene or vinyl toluene. By using MFA, Dixie reduces emissions and odors in the manufacturing process. MFA resins are also tougher than those made with styrene.
“We’re working on a toughener made with soybean oil, which can be used for epoxies, vinyl ester and polyester resins. When we’ve compared it to products that are currently available in the market, it appears to have similar properties. This could have a really big impact.”
To learn more about bioresin manufacturing, read the full Composites Manufacturing article here.