While natural fibres have long been used to create composite structures that today find application in industries ranging from construction to automotive, they have until now not yet been used before to create honeycomb sandwich materials.
So when Flaxco, a manufacturer of flax fibres for the composite industry, approached EconCore in 2020 with the suggestion of combining EconCore’s thermoplastic honeycomb technology with its flax fibre technology, the Belgium-based expert in honeycomb technology was quick to see the potential.
“For new product developments sustainable materials have become a key requirement,” said Jochen Pflug, EconCore CEO. “Within the automotive industry in particular, suppliers seek sustainable materials which lower their CO2 footprint.”
The polypropylene honeycomb material produced by EconCore offers a high-performance-to-weight ratio along with efficient energy absorption.
This is achieved through the material’s honeycomb-shaped hollow cells, which support sandwich sheets to provide high rigidity with minimal weight.
Flaxco and Econcore are now pioneering a combination of Flaxco’s flax fabric composite skins and EconCore polypropylene core to produce sandwich panels.
In order to generate high level of stiffness, sandwich cores require surface layers, like the neatly woven layers that Flaxco have the means to create. Once created the panels can be thermoformed thanks to their thermoplastic properties. This is typically done by means of short cycle compression moulding.
Flax fibres are 100% natural fibres that produce lower CO2 levels than competitor materials, including glass and carbon fibres, an increasingly important element within the automotive industry. Furthermore, research and testing are already underway for the material to find its place within the sports industry.
With high levels of cost efficiency compared to more conventional materials, the new Flaxco composite is expected to be the material of choice in a number of applications, especially those requiring dimensional stability. The new material aims to not only be used in new markets and applications but also replace non-sustainable materials already in use.
Moreover, while recent years have been marked by crises varying from pandemic lockdowns to supply chain shortages, the partnership has been relatively unaffected. Both EconCore and Flaxco are Belgian companies and have benefited from having a local supply chain.
As Ludwig Ryckebosch, Innovation and Business Development manager at Flaxco said: “It was a match made in heaven.”