Working alongside the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center has partnered with Natural Fiber Composites Corporation to engineer composites from jute, soy hulls, corn and wheat straw, and other plant-based sources instead of materials such as fiberglass. These natural fiber-reinforced composites are being targeted for use in transportation, construction, packaging and industrial products.
Made from two or more constituent materials, composites are popular in many industrial and consumer products that need to be lightweight yet strong. NFCC's composites are a combination of plant fibers and plastic resins -- a formula that also brings together Ohio's two largest industries, agriculture and polymers.
"Our technology is at the intersection of these two industries. We take agricultural-based fibers and bio-based materials and blend them with plastic resins to create a very unique composite with very high-performance properties that compare with glass-reinforced materials," says NFCC President Prabhat Krishnaswamy.
"While we had the plastics technology well in hand, we needed help with the agricultural side of the manufacturing operation, and we were introduced to OARDC. As a result of this partnership we've been able to optimize and perfect our agricultural feedstock and the processing of these agricultural fibers to a production level."
The expertise of faculty and staff from OARDC's Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering has made it possible for NFCC to develop fibers that can improve the properties of composite products -- making them lighter in weight, lower in cost, and less abrasive than traditional reinforcement materials, while still providing comparable performance requirements. NFCC is also investigating the use of bio-based resin with plant-derived fibers so that composite materials can be made entirely from renewable resources.
The partnership with OARDC and OBIC also helped NFCC win a $3 million Third Frontier grant from the state of Ohio in 2009 for development and commercialization of its bio-based fibers and fillers for composites. Further, NFCC was introduced to officials with the city of Wooster and Wayne County in northeast Ohio, whose support led to NFCC's decision to establish its pilot manufacturing plant in Wooster -- just a few miles from the OARDC campus.
"We had both the technology side with OARDC and the economic support from the city and the county, and that impacted our decision to base our operations in Wooster," Krishnaswamy says.