“We think the cork has a nice green story because it is renewable, but it also has very good fire and smoke toxicity properties, which is Mother Nature working for us once again,” says Richard O’Meara, president of Core Composites, Inc., a division of ROM Development Corporation, in Newport, R.I., which provided the team with the cork materials.

Suhr says the lighter material fits the bill for aerospace engineering because the current strategy of insulating the fuselage with fiberglass increases weight. There is also less vibration with cork, he says, which makes it a good candidate for wind-turbines. As it’s a natural insulator, applying cork material to the manufacture of wind turbines would also reduce the build-up of ice on turbine blades, thereby reducing the risk of injury or property damage, should a turbine blade spin off sharp pieces of ice, Suhr says.

Core Composites is the exclusive North American agent for Amorin, a Portuguese-based company with a whole division solely devoted to developing acoustical applications for cork. The team’s cork composite research had never been that well documented, especially on carbon-skin composites, says O’Meara. “To have that kind of acoustic reduction is something that we would expect, but it was never really quantified.” The team also explored the impact resistance of cork composites.

Suhr is now investigating ways to make efficient use of the particles of cork left over from processing cork for other applications. Cork processing produces cork granules and those granules contain a natural resin, he says. The waste from cork processing can be recycled into manufacturing a 100 percent bio-friendly particulate composite material bonded together with natural resins, instead of polyurethane, he says.

Cork is a big focus for them now, says O’Meara. His company is integrating cork into a plywood-type product, which will reduce the weight of the composite material by almost 40 percent. “We have so many programs going with so many diverse types of composite applications — from residential homes, all the way through to aircraft interiors. It’s kind of a fun product.”