The group found a lot of interest both from commercial aviation, general aviation, and military programs,” said Adams. “We also found an unexpected group in the shipbuilding industry that was interested. When the marine industry constructs large vessels, they often use woven composite materials that have large fiber tows and need a larger shear specimen. They found that the method we developed addressed that need.”

WHEAT THINNING
Project: Wheat-Reinforced Plastic
School: University of Waterloo
Location: Waterloo, Ontario
Director: Leonardo Simon

Listen to the latest announcements from Ford Motor Company, and you’ll hear a recurring theme: renewable technologies. One of the first major product announcements related to renewable energy was the implementation of wheat straw-reinforced plastic in the 2011 Ford Flex.

This product is a result of collaboration between four universities spearheaded by Leonardo Simon at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He says the material acts as a renewable filler in thermoplastic composites. “It replaces mineral fillers and when it does, it lowers the weight of the vehicle part,” he says.

Though the plastic was originally designed for the construction industry, the focus shifted to automotive in 2007, when the group heard about a CFP from Ontario. “The idea was to breach the agricultural/forestry sector to automotive because of economic activity,” says Simon. “Automakers are focusing more on lightweight materials and methods because it saves on fuel and make the car fuel efficient.”

However, making this environmentally-friendly solution wasn’t without its challenges. Prime focus points included moisture absorption and processing to the right particle size, which Simon says are focal points of tier one companies.

From a manufacturing perspective, minor adjustments could lead to faster cycle times. And Simon thinks the abundance of wheat could convince manufacturers to adopt the technology. “We can grow it every year. It doesn’t compete with the food supply chain, and is in fact a byproduct of food production. Wheat is grown generally near population areas, so transportation costs should be much lower,” he says.