In the United Kingdom, market research firm IDTechEx says beneficial properties, competitive cost, legislative drivers, and consumer preferences are driving increasing demand for natural fibers in composites.
The company forecasts sales for bast fibers—which include flax, hemp, and jute—in composites will top $140 million in ten years. “[B]ast fibers… are immediately attractive as they provide comparable or improved tensile strength and stiffness to that of E-glass fiber, as well as contain favorable vibration dampening and non-abrasive properties,” says Dr. Richard Collins, technology analyst at IDTechEx. “The cost of bast fibers is not significantly higher than that of glass fibers, particularly for the short/chopped variants, but as with all materials, there are a few notable downsides including high levels of moisture absorption and poor matrix adhesion, as well as the potential impact on the land.”
Innovations such as plasma-treatment technologies will help overcome technical challenges to bast fiber composites, while loosening growth restrictions on hemp in North America will expand supply, he adds.
Automotive and sports equipment are the largest commercial applications for bast to date.