Trio paving way for innovative change

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A TRIO of organisations are spearheading an initiative that could revolutionise the automotive industry.

Performance Engineered Solutions, TEKS UK and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre have joined forces in the £100,000 ELCOMAP project, which aims to develop eco-friendly alternatives to petrochemical-based composites.

ELCOMAP stands for Environmentally friendly Lightweight COmposite Materials for Aerodynamic body Panels.

The project aims to develop ways of making composites using alternative, naturally occurring materials like wood fibres, hemp, flax, sisal, jute, and resins derived from vegetable or animal bi-products.

It has secured a £50,000 grant from the Niche Vehicle Network, whose members include manufacturers of niche, premium brand sports cars, such as Aston Martin, Morgan, Westfield and companies making specialized components, bespoke bodies and chassis.

The three South Yorkshire businesses, based at the Advanced Manufacturing Park and the neighbouring Poplars Business Park, believe their programme to develop biocomposites could revolutionise the production of low volume, specialist components for high performance vehicles. Composites materials used in vehicles and aircraft are typically made by soaking fibres or woven fibre mats, often made from carbon or glass fibre - with a resin made from chemicals derived from fossil fuels - to create a material that is tough and strong.

Star Business recently reported that scientists at the AMRC had used biocomposites to make snowboards and aerodynamic panels. Now they plan to step up their efforts and look for ways to boost the material’s performance. Dan Fleetcroft, design director at Performance Engineered Solutions, which is leading the project, said: “This is an exciting project, in terms of the untapped potential for biocomposites in the automotive industry, and having the opportunity to work on the project with strategic partner organisations such as TEKS and the AMRC.

“Annual production revenue in the UK composite sector currently amounts to around £1.1 billion, about £0.4 billion of which is exported. UK demand for composites is expected to grow rapidly over the next five years to £2 billion in 2015.

“The UK growth rates for glass fibre – nine per cent per annum - and carbon fibre – 17 per cent per annum - composites are faster than those forecast for the UK and the rest of Europe, and match or exceed those of emerging markets.”

Dr Tim Swait, research engineer at the AMRC Composite Centre, said: “We will research how we can increase the concentration of fibres to give material properties that are at least a match for synthetic composites, and how we design the lay-up for a biocomposite component to optimise its performance.”