Adekunle's recycleble cars

Environmentally smart composites have mainly been used successfully in car interiors. The door-panels and dashboards in recent models of Mercedes, BMW and Mazda are all likely to have been furnished with interior features made from biodegradable composite materials.

These materials can, however, be used in many other ways. The hybrid composite that Kayode Feyistan Adekunle has developed is made 100 percent out of biological matter. It is so strong and resistant that it could actually replace the metal used in the bonnets and roofs of cars.

“There are other ways to use this material within the sectors of building and furnishing.  For example, you could make a seat like this one, or a top like this”, says Kayode Feyistan Adekunle, tapping on the table in front of us.

The environmental advantage of using biodegradable materials instead of plastics made from oil-based raw materials is beyond question. The new material will have positive effects on the whole production chain.

“Every part of the matter has been extracted from renewable substances retrievable within agriculture and forestry. From a life-cycle perspective, the composite material will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide considerably compared to petro-chemical products. As a positive side effect, new jobs can be created within the agricultural sector”.

A hybrid composite material consists of three major components: fibres from jute plants, Lyocell (a cellulose fibre) and soja-bean oil. In fact, oil from soya-beans is the key to the new composite. It unites the different fibres by turning them into solid substances.

However, in order to be rendered functional, the soya-bean oil has to be refined and turned into a polymer. This is achieved by altering the molecular setup through adding other substances and raising the temperature. It is important to get an exact mixture for the right properties to be achieved.

Part of the work has involved testing the characteristics of the new material. Experiments have been made by varying quantities of jute fibre and Lyocell in order to see how this affected the outcome. The tests were evaluated on the grounds of strength, stiffness and flexibility.

The result has been a new, completely natural composite material with positive mechanical qualities. It is also relatively simple and cheap to produce.

“The future of composite materials lies ahead”, says Kayode Feyistan Adekunle. “If the world is to restrict its dependency on oil and reduce its greenhouse emissions, a changeover to natural and biodegradable composites is the only way to go”.

At the moment he is investigating whether the same effects can be achieved with rapeseed-oil and linseed-oil. “The more natural materials we can use, the better”, he ends.