In 2016, the global Natural-Fibre Composites (NFC) market size was USD 4.46 billion. From 2016 to 2024, the compound annual growth rate is expected to reach 11.8%. The spiral growth of light products and the increasing awareness of green products in the automotive industry are one of the reasons for its rapid growth. However, the sensitivity of natural fiber composites to humidity is bound to hinder this growth.
Tesla racing car, EPCS V2.3 Tesla P100DL, body made of linen reinforced material
Natural fibers are bio-based materials made from materials such as wood, cotton, flax, kenaf, and hemp. All these materials are less harmful to the environment and are easy to obtain. The raw materials used to make natural fiber composites are environmentally friendly and have the potential to replace synthetic fibers in the next few years. The increasing awareness of green products, the increase in consumer disposable income, the increasing demand for environmentally friendly products, and the strong demand for recyclable products may play a vital role in the growth of this market.
About NFC material properties
Compared with the same weight of glass fiber, natural fiber has 25% to 30% higher strength. Composite materials made of natural fibers help reduce the weight of components, thereby reducing overall energy consumption. In addition, the NFC molding process consumes less energy than glass fiber molding and can reduce production costs by 10%. However, their moisture sensitivity and weak bond with the polymer matrix can hinder their growth; and because they absorb moisture and cause fiber expansion, their application in the automotive industry is limited to the interior of cars.
Mechanical testing of flax fiber composite
About raw materials
The main reinforcing fiber materials of NFC come from wood, flax, kenaf, cotton, and hemp. Among them, wood has always dominated the market, accounting for 59.3% of total revenue in 2015. This trend is expected to continue until 2024, and the advantages of wood (including high strength and robustness) will drive its utilization in the next few years.
Flax is one of the most widely used materials in 2015, with a market share of 13%. Compared with carbon fiber, flax is shock-absorbing and renewable. The advantages of flax include high tensile strength, good UV barrier, strong vibration absorption and high water retention, making it one of the most widely used raw materials in industry.
Cotton belongs to the category of seed fiber, which is commonly used in textiles all over the world. Cotton is weaker than other natural fibers due to its moisture absorption properties. It can absorb up to 20% of its dry weight. With the expansion of the textile and sporting goods industry, this segment is expected to grow.
The use of kenaf has grown in various industries such as construction, petroleum and chemical absorbents, food packaging, and automobiles. This material is highly sustainable and can be completely recycled. The surge in demand for biodegradable products may have played an important role in stimulating the growth of this market.
Hemp-based composites can replace glass fibers in many applications, and they are biodegradable. The surge in demand for environmentally friendly and renewable materials in the automotive and construction industries is bound to trigger growth in this area.
"Virgin Mojito", the first boat made of natural flax fiber
About polymer matrix
The polymer matrix market is segmented into inorganic compounds, natural polymers, and synthetic polymers. The natural polymer matrix is expected to grow the fastest during the forecast period. Due to changes in lifestyles and evolving green trends, the growing demand for sustainable products is expected to complement the growth in this field.
Inorganic compounds are one of the most effective substrates on the market. They are mainly used in wood fibers. Inorganic compounds accounted for 43.4% share in 2015, and this trend is expected to continue in the next few years. The combination of wood fiber and inorganic matrix can provide advantages such as improved toughness, crack deformation and tensile strength.
Natural polymers include starch, rubber, and synthetic polymers such as PLA and PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate). This segment accounted for 25.1% of the market in 2015. The growing demand for renewable and degradable products is expected to drive the market in the next few years.
Synthetic polymers including thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics are used as the matrix of wood fibers. In the next few years, this market segment may account for the second largest share.
Hemp fiber is used in construction in Kentucky
About NFC molding technology
In terms of technology, the natural fiber composite material market is divided into injection molding, compression molding and pultrusion molding. Injection molding requires low molecular weight polymers to maintain low viscosity, and this process is mainly used for mass production of parts. The increasing demand for mass production in the end-use industry is expected to contribute to the growth of this field.
Injection molding accounted for 10% of 2015 revenue share. This is a high-volume, high-pressure, closed molding technology used to develop composite products. There are two steps after this process: preheating and pressurizing.
Compression molding is a high-pressure, high-volume molding technology, mainly used to produce high-strength and complex objects for the automotive, transportation, home appliances, and other high-volume industries.
Pultrusion is widely used in the production of various products in railway transportation, aerospace, ship and navigation, sporting goods, wind turbine blades, storage and corrosive liquid transportation industries. The demand for low-weight, maintenance-free, corrosion-resistant and non-conductive products is expected to support the growth in this area.
Example of flax fiber processing
About NFC application
NFC is mainly used in the automotive and construction industries to manufacture door panels, seat backs, instrument panels, truck linings, roofs, covers, railings, windows and frames.
Electronics and sporting goods are promising market segments. Many products such as handbags, laptop bags, tennis rackets, bicycles, frames and skis are also made of natural fiber composite materials.
In the automotive industry, natural fiber-reinforced biocomposites are used to produce lightweight parts with good mechanical properties to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. They help reduce weight by 30% and reduce costs by 20% in automobile manufacturing. The revenue share of this segment in 2015 exceeded 30%. NFC for the automotive industry was developed using wood and non-wood fibers (such as flax, hemp, and cellulose) instead of glass fibers. Compared with modern materials, the resulting product is lighter. The use of these materials in the manufacturing process can reduce costs by approximately 20%.
Natural fibers are a low-cost, sustainable alternative to synthetic fibers and metal fibers used as building materials. In some cases, their mechanical properties (including impact resistance, bending properties and fracture toughness) are better than glass fibers. In 2015, the construction market share accounted for 56% of the overall market share.
About NFC regional distribution
The demand for flax-based NFC is expected to surge, and its increasing popularity and the surge in demand for consumer products will greatly promote the North American market. In the automotive industry in the region, the NAFILEAN process has led to the sustainable design of the center console, instrument panel and door panels.
2013-2024 U.S. NFC market revenue by raw materials (US$ million)
European car manufacturers have also conducted extensive research on NFC to develop natural polymer matrices for front and rear door linings, trunk linings and parcel shelves. In 2015, Europe accounted for 15.4% of the market share. Germany is Europe's largest automobile producer and major hemp fiber importer. In order to improve fuel efficiency, the automotive industry's growing demand for biodegradable and lightweight products is expected to drive the country's growth.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the sporting goods, electronics and automotive industries are expected to maintain healthy growth in the next few years due to the increase in disposable income and the improvement of living standards. China dominates the Asia-Pacific market, and this trend is likely to continue in the next few years.