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Explaining the sustainable answer to using composite parts

Natural fibres are increasingly being used as a sustainable alternative to carbonfibre composites. Bcomp’s Manager of Motorsports and Supercars explains the eco-friendly revolution

Explaining the sustainable answer to using composite parts

The picture of what a composite is has for many years been carbon first. But this is changing as society becomes more aware of sustainability and the technology used in natural fibres has improved. Carbonfibre has some amazing mechanical properties, but significant sustainability drawbacks too. That’s where Bcomp comes in.

I first discovered Bcomp’s patented powerRibs™ technology while working on a student project, so I made the same journey many of our customers take from knowing very little to understanding how an alternative to carbon is feasible.

I used to make everything using carbonfibre in Formula Student, without even thinking about an alternative, until I was challenged by my professor to use natural fibre composites on a super-lightweight structure for a road vehicle. When he showed me the material, I said, ‘It’s not possible to build a high-performance product with that’. So I started researching into others suppliers and found Bcomp.

Our founders studied at the prestigious EPFL university in Lausanne, Switzerland, so everything we do starts with hardcore material science. We are bringing this very technical approach to natural fibre composites to deliver a solution in the ampliTex™ and powerRibs™ package that matches the stiffness and weight of monolithic carbon parts in a specific weight window, while outperforming everything else in terms of sustainability.

Natural fibre fabric alone often can’t compete against carbonfibre in terms of pure performance, but we overcome this by using the high specific bending stiffness of flax fibres in powerRibs™. If you imagine a leaf, it is super-light but strong and stiff enough to withstand wind thanks to ribs on the B-side. That’s what we replicate with natural fibre composites. The twisted yarn in powerRibs™ is engineered for use at very high pressures in different manufacturing techniques from autoclaved F1 components to high-volume production processes for large-scale mobility.

In addition to sustainability, natural fibres also bring safety benefits. When a part breaks, the edges are blunt so the debris doesn’t cut tyres – unlike with carbon splinters. Our partner YCOM has built and crash-tested a single-seater nose box, which would see benefits in this regard. Also, sportscar racing organising body SRO changed the GT4 regulations in 2019 so that non-standard aerodynamic surfaces like the splitter and diffuser - parts that are crashed first – must use natural fibres, which was a good step towards reducing the risk of punctures.

Natural fibre composite parts are increasingly common on GT cars where they can be easily interchanged, including the bonnet of Valluga Racing's Porsche in the recent Oulton Park British GT round

Natural fibre composite parts are increasingly common on GT cars where they can be easily interchanged, including the bonnet of Valluga Racing's Porsche in the recent Oulton Park British GT round

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Our products are widely used in GT bodyworks and interiors, where motorsport is more automotive industry-relevant and cost-effective compared to the super-light structures F1 currently uses for bodywork. GT cars are a perfect use opportunity to showcase and test new technologies for OEMs while already being close to road applications. With GT4 cars for example, parts can be easily exchanged.

We’re in a period where successor cars from several partners are entering the GT4 market. People have confidence from using the first car with the product and now have more natural fibre parts in the next car

Porsche was one of the first on the GT side that really embraced natural fibres and now we’re in a period where successor cars from several partners are entering the GT4 market. People have confidence from using the first car with the product and now have more natural fibre parts in the next car.

Each series needs to find their own route on whether they prioritise pure lightness or sustainability. Extreme E and the new eSkootr Championship fall into the second camp. That said, F1 is open to using natural fibres and we have partnered with McLaren on its racing seats, engineering island and timing stand. The latter don’t influence car performance, but have a huge impact on CO2 output and are one of many ways that natural fibre composites can be used instead of carbon with zero time loss.

New Mercedes-AMG GT4 model is the latest car to feature significant natural fibre content

New Mercedes-AMG GT4 model is the latest car to feature significant natural fibre content

Photo by: Bcomp

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