Cotton and car parts Thinkstock

Making Car Parts Out of…Plants?

Air Force researchers have developed a process for turning plant fibers into materials for automotive components.

Researchers at the Air Force Office of Science Research have developed a method of fiber welding that turns natural plant fibers into molded materials that could be used as components of automotive interiors. The process takes fibers from cotton, hemp, jute, sisal, or flax; puts them in a mold; adds solvents, along with some temperature and pressure inputs; and creates molded parts. No glue is involved. After the solvents are removed, the plant polymers retain their chemical composition but bonds form between molecules in the fibers. Compared to many other natural and synthetic materials, welded-fiber parts are stronger, lighter, less expensive, and environmentally friendlier.

The Air Force recently signed a Patent License Agreement (PLA) with Natural Fiber Wilding Inc. that lets the company use the newly developed process for making car parts. NFW has had success with making car parts out of natural fibrous materials such as cotton, silk, and rayon, as well as sawdust and other waste wood products.

The Air Force signs 30 to 40 PLA s annually. They let individuals, companies, and universities incorporate, manufacture, sell, or leverage intellectual property developed by the Air Force. They are a way of maximizing the use of Air Force technology in the economy, creating new business and job opportunities while stimulating research.

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