The COMPOSENS project’s mission is to develop polymer composite materials with low environmental impact. These composites will incorporate renewable resources from the Franco-Belgian border region, meaning hemp and flax fibres as well as wood flour and sawdust. In addition to being renewable, these materials are also lighter than their non-renewable equialents like glass fiber. The project will focus in particular on composites containing short fibres as well as on those containing continuous fibres (e.g. roving, mats, woven fabrics). Biocomposites of this type are demanded by a variety of sectors including transport, construction, sport, furniture, and in consumer goods. According to a 2015 study by nova-Institut, a German research and consultancy agency, wood-polymer composites (WPC) and natural-fibre-polymer composites (NFC) account for 15% of the composites market in Europe, a figure that is expected to grow.
The COMPOSENS working group will consult with scientific and technical experts as well as members of various commercial sectors, to address the demands of industries in the Franco-Belgian border region (specifically small- and medium-sized companies). By collaborating on research, providing technical assistance and disseminating information about biocomposites, COMPOSENS seeks to develop new applications for this class of materials.
COMPOSENS is a research project intended to foster cross-border co-operation as part of the European Union’s INTERREG project. The project is a partnership seven French and Belgian institutions with expertise in a variety of disciplines. It’s purpose is to develop polymer-wood and polymer-natural-fibre composite materials with reduced environmental impact that meed the needs of local industries.
The project will last four years – from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2020 – with a budget of €3.225.441, of which €1.612.721 are provided by FEDER (Fonds Européen de Développement Régional). The project is also financed by the region of Wallonia in Belgium as well as the Grand Est region and the Ardennes department in France.
COMPOSENS is engaged in the study of the manufacturing of polymer composites reinforced with wood, hemp and flax. The specific fibres being studied are short plant fibres (i.e. lengths of no more than a few milimetres or centimetres) as well as long fibres in mats or woven cloths. The polymer in which they will be compounded is an as-yet unspecified polymer, which may be either petroleum- or bio-based.
Filler-matrix adhesion is a critical factor in the performance of composite materials. Improving the adhesion of plant fibres and wood particles to polymer matrices remains a major challenge for biocomposite manufacturers. Consequently, the COMPOSENS research team will explore fibre treatment processes that result in improved adhesion. Steam explosion, vapor cracking and plasma treatment are among the processes which will be studied.
Les partenaires orienteront leur recherche en vue d’élargir le champ des COMPOSENS is focused on developing new applications for biocomposites which could potentially be of benefit for the Franco-Belgian cross-border regional economy. For instance, the project will explore the use of wood-polymer composites in additive fabrication (i.e. 3D printing). Another possible application to be developed is pre-impregnation of natural fibres, meaning the application of a thin film resin on natural fibres prior to compounding to improve their adhesion with the polymer matrix. Atmospheric plasma deposition coating is yet another promising new technology which will be applied to plant fibres in order to produce composites with enhanced properties. These innovative methods can easily be integrated into an industrial production line and can lead to a reduction in the temperature, shear rate and residence time required to effectively blend polymers with bio-based fillers like wood flour or plant fibres, thereby reducing both energy consumption and the risk of degradation during compounding.
When biocomposites have unacceptable sensory characteristics, particularly odours, or when they emit volatile organic compounds, it is usually an indicator of thermal degradation of lignocellulose during compounding. To address this phenomenon, COMPOSENS will study the thermal degradation in biocomposites during compounding and propose solutions to reduce vapor emission and improve sensory characteristics.
COMPOSENS is focused on developping processes, applications and products which are economically viable on an industrial scale. The project will therefore take into account the costs of materials and treatment processes, and develop a life-cycle analysis in order to identify the best options for industrial-scale implementation of new technology. The biocomposites developed through this projecct will be subjected to an evaluation conforming to european standard EN 15534-2014, in order to permit their introduction to the market.
The Franco-Belgian border region contains a variety of actors from every level of the plastics and biocomposites industrial value chains, from agricultural cultivators to manufacturing plants. The commercial enterprises in these chains which already use biocomposites or would like to begin using them (and particularly the small- and medium-sized enterprises), stand to benefit from the development of new products and technological solutions. It is the ambition of COMPOSENS to respond to the needs of these enterprises using the specialisation of its members in applied science to develop innovative solutions which are transferable to the reality of regional commercial enterprises.
For the benefits of COMPOSENS to be fully realised for the industrial stakeholders in the Franco-Belgian border region, it is imperative that the two countries continue their cooperation in supoprt of the project.