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Determining Whether Natural Fiber Composites are Superior to Glass Fibers as Reinforcement Materials in the Automotive Industry (Research Paper Sample)

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Determining Whether Natural Fiber Composites are Superior to Glass Fibers as Reinforcement Materials in the Automotive Industry

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A LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT OF THE PRODUCTION OF GLASS FIBER AND NATURAL FIBER AS REINFORCEMENT MATERIALS
Determining Whether Natural Fiber Composites are Superior to Glass Fibers as Reinforcement Materials in the Automotive Industry
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A Life Cycle Assessment of the Production of Glass Fiber and Natural Fiber as Reinforcement Materials in the Automotive Industry
Abstract
Over the past few decades, many engineers have developed an interest in the use of natural fibers as reinforcement materials. The natural fibers are emerging as lightweight, low-cost, and more environmentally friendly than the glass fiber-reinforced composites. The long -term objective of this paper is to conduct a comprehensive comparative Life Cycle Assessment of the natural fibers and glass fibers as reinforcement materials in the automotive industry with a final intention of confirming or refuting that the natural fiber-reinforced composites are superior to the glass fibers in terms of environmental performance. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been used to compute the environmental effects in the production process of the natural fiber and glass fibers. The paper has selected various studies on life cycle assessments on glass fibers and natural fiber composites. The key drivers of the relative performance of the two alternative materials have been studied keenly and a conclusion drawn. Likely, natural fiber-reinforced composites are more environmentally superior in environmental performance to the glass fiber-reinforced composites. The. Natural fibers, such as hemp and flax are presently grown commercially in the United Kingdom and are used in making composite materials. The natural fiber composites have a wide range of applications in the automotive industry, such as in truck cabins, interior panels of passenger vehicles, cabin linings, and door panels in place of fiber composites. After the review of the various previous research works, the paper concludes that the natural fibers should be used as substitutes for glass fibers as reinforcement materials because they are more environmentally friendly.
Introduction
Since the early 1990s, the natural fiber-reinforced composites have been emerging as the alternatives to glass fiber-reinforced composites in several engineering applications. The natural fiber composite materials, such as flax fiber-polypropylene, China reed and hemp-epoxy fibers are predominantly attractive in a number of automotive applications due to their good strength–weight ratio and lower cost. The glass fiber composites used as reinforcements cost between $1.30 and $2.00 per kg and has a density of kg 2.6 g per cubic centimeter. On the other hand, the flax and hemp fibers cost between $0.22 and $1.10 per kilogram and have a density of 1.5 g per cubic centimeter. The natural fibers are categorized into three main groups: protein (animal hair), cellulose (vegetables), and minerals. The natural fibers from plants, such as hemp, ramie, flax, jute, and kenaf, are more likely to be used as reinforcement composites than other types of fibers. These fibers offer more advantages over the other cellulose- based fibers, such as seed fibers, fruit fibers, and leaf fibers, due to their high tensile strength, modulus, and low specific gravity. Natural fibers, such as hemp and flax are presently grown commercially in the United Kingdom and are used in making composite materials. The natural fiber composites have a wide range of applications in the automotive industry, such as in truck cabins, interior panels of passenger vehicles, cabin (Ribeiro, Ferreira, & Partidario 2006).
Whereas the natural fiber composites have been used traditionally to reinforce and fill thermosets, the natural fiber- reinforced thermoplastics, especially the polypropylene composites, have greatly attracted attention majorly because of their recyclability. The Natural fibers-reinforced composites are also argued to offer many environmental advantages, such as lower pollutant emissions, reduced dependency on the non-renewable energy sources, enhanced energy recovery, lower emissions of greenhouse gasses, and end-of-life biodegradability of their components. Since such outstanding environmental advantages are important drivers of the increased future application of the natural fiber composite materials, a thorough comparative Life Cycle Assessment of the environmental impacts associated with the production of glass and natural fiber composites is required. In this paper, several research studies on the Life Cycle Assessments on different materials have been reviewed to compare the most suitable material to be used in the manufacturing of fiber-based reinforcement. The specific findings of these articles have been generalized and a conclusion drawn.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Life Cycle Assessment is a technique used in analysing the environmental impacts and other potential impacts that are associated with a product, through:
* Identification of the scope of the study
* A thorough compilation of an inventory of pertinent inputs and outputs of a given product system.
* Evaluation of the potential environmental impacts that are associated with the selected inputs and outputs.
* Interpretation of the inventory analysis results and impact analysis phase about the study objectives.
In the context of Life Cycle Inventory Analysis, the inputs, such as water and energy, and outputs, such as wastes emissions, are normally quantified at each production stage of the natural fibers. The environmental issues that are analyzed in Life Cycle Impact Analysis include:
* Ozone Layer Depletion Potentials
* Photo-chemical Oxidants Creation Potentials
* Aquatic Toxicity Potentials
* Human Toxicity Potentials
* Eutrophication Potentials
* Global Warming Potentials
* Acidification Potentials
* Abiotic Resource or Non-Renewable Depletion Potential
Life Cycle Assessment studies the aspects of the environment, as well as other potential impacts throughout a product's life cycle from the acquisition of the raw material through the production, product use and end-of-life management options, such as incineration, recycling, and the waste disposal. The figures below show the life cycle of glass fiber and natural fibers as reinforcement material in composites.
628650335915Glass Production00
Glass Production
430530013970Monomer Production00Monomer Production
119951519685000
485775022542500
22917159906000395224026733500
67627455880Glass Fiber Production00Glass Fiber Production43624508255Polymer Production00Polymer Production25812758255Production of Glass Fiber-Reinforced Components00Production of Glass Fiber-Reinforced Components
316230030543400
2609850145415Component Use00Component Use
317182517589500
2600325139700Component End-of- Life Management-Land Filling-Incineration00Component End-of- Life Management-Land Filling-Incineration
Fig. 1. Life cycle of a glass fiber- reinforced composite
123825342899Fiber Crop Production00Fiber Crop Production
403860020956Monomer Production00Monomer Production
8286752514600
43816595318200
179419210890300361949929336900411480083820Polymer Production00Polymer Production1619257620Natural Fiber Extraction and Processing00Natural Fiber Extraction and Processing20288257621Component Production00Component Production
265747625717500183832511430000
1647825337185016573512228850200977522859Component Use00Component Use13335013334Production of Compatibilizer00Production of Compatibilizer
267652528194000
2076450112396Component End-of-Life Management-Land Filling-Incineration-Composting00Component End-of-Life Management-Land Filling-Incineration-Composting
Fig. 2. Life cycle of natural fiber- reinforced composite
Life Cycle Assessment takes a comprehensive cradle to cradle or cradle to grave approach, thus, avoiding emphasis on only specific stages of life cycle in the evaluation of a product environmental performance. Recent versions of the ISO standards 14040 to 14043 give a detailed guideline for conducting Life Cycle Assessment. The details of specific manufacturing processes, emissions, and energy use, and material flow vary from one application to the other. However, energy use, material flows, emissions, and environmental effects over the life cycle requires to be invented, modeled and analyzed in order to come up with a comprehensive LCA.
Review of Prior Studies
A few research studies have been carried out on comparative Life Cycle Assessment of certain components of reinforcement materials made from glass fiber and natural fibers. This paper has sampled three research studies and summarized the methodologies and findings of the studies. The research studies include:
Wotzel, Wirth, and Flake, 1999
This research study presents detailed Life Cycle Assessments on a side panel of an Audi A3 car made from the ABS copolymer and the alternative design from hemp-epoxy. The study has modeled the inputs, energy consumption, and emissions through to the manufacturing stage of the components. The use-phase and end-of-life management, such as energy recover through incinerations have not been modeled, though the study discusses in details some key implications of the use-phase inclusion in the assessment. For the natural fiber-reinforced components, the stages of hemp cultivation, fiber extraction, and component manufacture have been modeled. The statistics on the emissions for the Epoxy and ABS resins are based on Advanced Polymers via Macromolecular Engineering (APME) eco-profiles. The accumulative energy use and certain emissions from the production of each of the components are as summarized in Table 1.
Environmental Indicator

ABS Copolymer

Hemp-Epoxy Fiber

Total E...
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