Tractor parts made from soybeans and picnic tables made from the kenaf plant are just a few of the products that use natural fibers to replace more conventional materials. They are proving to be more durable, lighter in weight, and priced right.
For example, both Ford Cougars and Mustangs are being outfitted with door panels and trunk liners made from a composite of kenaf-fiber and polypropylene plastic. John Deere and Co. is using soy-based fiberglass composites in its tractors and haybalers.
Manufacturers say that many of these natural fibers weigh 30 percent less than wood and are easier to work with, thus speeding up the manufacturing process. The fibers are chopped, blended with molten plastic, and then shaped in molds to create everything from tables to shipping pallets. The molding eliminates the waste that normally is produced when wood products are trimmed. The materials can also be melted down and reused up to five times.
Global Resources Technologies in Madison, Wis., is using jute, sisal, coir, flax, kenaf and even denim in a host of products. Denim scraps from the nearby Lands’ End clothing company go into composite pallets that are stronger than wood. While the initial cost can be higher than wood, the company says the composite variety can withstand 100 trips, while wood pallets typically breakdown after three trips.