Abaca Project a Success: Use of Natural Fibers in A-Class Honored with SPE Automotive Award

Abaca Project a Success: Use of Natural Fibers in A-Class Honored with SPE Automotive Award

  • International Society of Plastic Engineers presents award to DaimlerChrysler in “Environment” category

  • Spare tire well cover of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class exemplifies potential of natural fibers in automotive production

  • Prof. Herbert Kohler: “We will continue to support the use of renewable raw materials in automotive production.”

On November 16, 2005, the International Society of Plastic Engineers (SPE), a U.S. association, presented its SPE Automotive Award in the “Environment” category to Mercedes-Benz in recognition of the use of natural fibers in the spare tire well cover of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. “We are delighted that the International Society of Plastic Engineers has recognized the A-Class in honoring the great innovative potential of natural fibers in the automotive industry,” says Prof. Herbert Kohler, Vice President, Body and Powertrain Research and Chief Environmental Officer of DaimlerChrysler. The SPE presents its Automotive Award in recognition of the automotive and supplier industries’ most creative and innovative achievements in the use of synthetic materials.

DaimlerChrysler started using the very tough natural fibers of the abaca plant in place of glass fibers in the spare tire well covers of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class coupe in 2004. This marks the first time that a component containing natural fibers has been used in the exterior of a passenger car. “We expect that economic conditions overall will improve, and that natural fibers will become increasingly important in automotive production,” Prof. Kohler explains. “We have been researching the use of natural fibers in automotive production for more than 15 years, and we understand the challenges, advantages and potential associated with this environmentally friendly material. We’ll continue to promote the use of renewable resources wherever it makes economic and functional sense.”

DaimlerChrysler researchers patented the new blend of polypropylene (PP) thermoplastic and embedded fibers in 2002. Manila Cordage, a Philippine company that makes semi-finished products, supplies the fibers. The components for the A-Class are produced by the automotive supplier Rieter in Switzerland. A direct processing procedure for long fiber-reinforced thermoplastics (d-LFT) was refined for the use of natural fibers in the production of the components. The challenge here was to adapt the required machine precision to natural fibers, whose lengths and fiber strengths are subject to natural fluctuations, and to deliver the special qualities that an exterior component must possess, including resistance to stone chipping, weather conditions and moisture.

Since January 2004, DaimlerChrysler has been working in a public-private partnership on the island of Leyte in the Philippines with the Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (German Investment and Development Association, DEG) and Hohenheim University. The objectives of this cooperation are to plant abaca in a sustainable way while optimizing the production processes for abaca fibers.

Using renewable natural fibers in industry helps to conserve resources. In contrast to glass fibers, which can be almost entirely replaced in the spare tire well cover of the A-Class, the natural fibers offer advantages for the environment due to their excellent ecological properties in terms of production, utilization and recycling. In addition, the waste generated in the production of natural fibers can be used as organic fertilizer.

The SPE Automotive Award is the second renowned international honor presented in recognition of the abaca project. On April 5 of this year in Paris, the JEC Group, a European association for composite materials, honored the innovative use of the abaca fibers in the vehicle underbody with the 2005 JEC Award in the category “Ground Mass Transportation.”

The use of natural fibers from the abaca plant in automotive production is a prime example of how findings from the Magdeburg Environmental Forum are channeled into project applications. The very strong fibers from the abaca banana plant were presented in 2001 at the second Magdeburg forum, where the potential of the fibers’ use in the auto industry was discussed at a workshop. The public-private partnership project involving DaimlerChrysler, the DEG and the University of Hohenheim was established in 2003, at the third Environmental Forum in Magdeburg. The partnership’s stated objectives are to achieve sustainable cultivation of abaca plants in the Philippines and to support the processing of abaca fibers.

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