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Natural Fibre Use in Automotive Production Increases by 5%

13 December 2004

A report into use of natural fibres in the German automotive industry shows production increase to 160,000 tons of natural fibre composites in 2003.

Nova-Institute’s current market survey, the use of natural fibres in the German automotive industry reveals that the use of natural fibres increased despite recession and pressures on prices.

The use of composites equipped with the reinforcing fibres flax, hemp, jute, kenaf and sisal increased by almost 5 % to 45,000 tons from 2002 to 2003. These materials are mainly used in interior door linings and boot case linings in medium-class and luxury class passenger cars, being characterized by a high mechanical load capacity and a simultaneously low weight.

Wood fibre composites amounted to 36,000 tons in 2003 and reprocessed cotton reinforced materials to 79,000 tons, the latter particularly used in lorry driver’s cabs.

In total all natural fibre reinforced composites amount to 160,000 tons, 88,000 tons of which account for natural fibres and 72,000 tons for thermoset and thermoplastics. Accordingly approx. 16 kg of natural fibres are used per vehicle, calculated on a basis of 5.5 million vehicles produced in Germany in 2003 (passenger cars and lorries). Further natural fibres are used for the purpose of automotive insulation and seat upholstery.

It was the primary goal of the on-hand survey to collect reliable data for the achieved status and the future market development of the use of natural fibres in composites for the German automotive production, analogously to the market surveys by nova-Institut in the years 1996 and 1999 till 2002.

The new survey results show that despite the relatively weak economic situation in the automotive industry in 2002 and 2003, the use of natural fibres (without wood and reprocessed cotton) for composites has further increased. From 1996 to 2003 the use of natural fibres in composites of the German automotive industry increased from 10.000 tons to 45,000 tons.

From 1996 till 2002, an almost linear increase of use amounts with yearly growth rates between 10 and 20 % can be observed. From 2002 to 2003, growth diminished to below 5 %, for sure also as a result of generally abating automotive sales and the enormous pricing pressure on automotive producers.

The standard price level for fibres suitable for the production of non-wovens, as used in the automotive parts production, steadily remains between around 0.50 and slightly over 0.60 €/kg. For these natural fibres, one can assume a turnover of about 10 million EUR in the German and 15 million EUR in the European automotive production.

The proportions of the different processing technologies for the use of natural fibres (except wood and reprocessed cotton) in 2003, taken from the most recent nova survey. 99 % account for press-moulded parts – 64 % with thermoplast matrix and 35 % with thermoset (duroplast) matrix – and, for the first time, 1 % account for PP natural fibre injection moulding (PP-NF). The share of thermoplastically bonded press-moulded parts has increased over the last seven years.

At an average, approx. 3.5 kg of natural fibres (except wood and reprocessed cotton) per passenger car are used in composites in Germany, so far almost exclusively in press-moulded parts.

In case of use of natural fibre press-moulded parts in a passenger car, the natural fibre amount is significantly larger. For example, 1.2-1.8 kg (front) resp. 0.8-1.5 kg (rear) are typically used in interior door linings, and 1.5-2.5 kg in car boot linings. Together with further composite applications, this quickly sums up to amounts between 5 and 10 kg natural fibres per passenger car. It can even be 20 to 30 kg per passenger car in peak cases. For the first time the chart gives a complete overview of the use of all natural fibres incl. wood fibres and reprocessed cotton in the German passenger car and lorry production.

For the first time a new processing technology made its way into series production in 2003, albeit in decent amounts of some few hundred tons: natural fibre injection moulding with polypropylene matrix. Experts are considering this technology as sleeping giant, because of its mechanical properties, density and prices – particularly also beyond the automotive sector.

The full study “Use of natural fibres in composites in the German automotive production 1996 till 2003” is available as PDF file in the internet at the price of 50 € plus 16 % VAT, in both German and English at “www.nachwachsende-rohstoffe.info/pdf”.






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