ADVANTAGES

Plastic composites for automobiles are the second most important component of the hemp industry of the EU. Natural fibers in automobile composites are used primarily in press-molded parts (Fig. 18). There are two widespread technologies. In thermoplastic production, natural fibers are blended with polypropylene fibers and formed into a mat, which is pressed under heat into the desired form. In thermoset production the natural fibers are soaked with binders such as epoxy resin or polyurethane, placed in the desired form, and allowed to harden through polymerization. Hemp has also been used in other types of thermoplastic applications, including injection molding. The characteristics of hemp fibers have proven to be superior for production of molded composites. In European manufacturing of cars, natural fibers are used to reinforce door panels, passenger rear decks, trunk linings, and pillars. In 1999 over 20,000 t of natural fiber were used for these purposes in Europe, including about, 2,000 t of hemp. It has been estimated that 5–10 kg of natural fibers can be used in the molded portions of an average automobile (excluding upholstery). The demand for automobile applications of hemp is expected to increase considerably, depending on the development of new technologies (Karus et al. 2000).

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