Plantains could be used to build cars in the future

News > World

By STEM Caribbean | Posted on August 7, 2020

Researchers have discovered that when combined with other materials, plantains could improve cars. | Image source: Pixabay

Researchers from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa have discovered that when combined with carbon nanotubes and epoxy resin, the natural fibers found in plantains (inedible parts), have great potential to be used in cars.  Epoxy resin is used in materials like adhesive and paints. 

Natural eco-friendly materials are becoming more common among automakers as sustainability, and reducing CO2 emissions are top priorities. Typically, these materials are mostly used in manufacturing vehicle interiors, such as doors, seat covers, floor mats, and dashboards. Also, they don’t rust or corrode like metal materials.   

“There is a trend of using natural fibre in vehicles. The reason is that natural fibres composites are renewable, low cost, and low density. They have high specific strength and stiffness. The manufacturing processes are relatively safe,” says Dr. Patrick Ehi Imoisili in a news release

He further adds that the natural fiber composites helps lower the weight of vehicles, increasing fuel efficiency.  

While some automotive companies’ goal may be to make completely eco-friendly vehicles, fibres from natural materials can crack, break, and bend due to their low mechanical and thermal properties. The research conducted by Professor Tien-Chien Jen, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Science at the University of Johannesburg, and his team has resulted in a promising alternative according to the news release.    

The team used epoxy resin, carbon nanotubes (weighs 1% of the total composite), and microwave treated plantain fibers to create a composite material. According to the press release, a series of standardised industrial tests were performed on the material. The tests showed that it was more durable and stiffer than epoxy resin by itself. There was also an improvement in the thermal conductivity when compared to epoxy resin on its own.  

“The hybridization of plantain with multi-walled carbon nanotubes increases the mechanical and thermal strength of the composite,” says Professor Tien-Chien Jen, who led the study. “These increases make the hybrid composite a competitive and alternative material for certain car parts.”  

Companies like Hyundai currently boast of using natural fibres in their cars and aim to continue expanding this usage. The door trims on Hyundai’s Kia Soul EV are made of sugarcane and wood-extracted bioplastic.  

With more automakers like Hyundai investing in ‘green’ solutions and becoming increasingly conscious about the environment, the study conducted by Professor Tien-Chien Jen and his colleagues has possibly set a precedent for more innovations involving natural materials in cars. 

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