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Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

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Green composites: A review of adequate materials for automotive applications

Georgios Koronis , Arlindo Silva, Mihail Fontul
Instituto Superior Tecnico, Mechanical Engineering Department, Lisbon, Portugal

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 27 December 2011
Received in revised form 7 May 2012
Accepted 3 July 2012
Available online 24 July 2012
A. Polymermatrix composites (PMCs)
B. Mechanical properties
Natural bers

a b s t r a c t
This study provides a bibliographic review in the broad eld of green composites seeking-out for materials with a potential to be applied in the near future on automotive body panels. Hereupon, materials
deriving from renewable resources will be preferred as opposed to the exhaustible fossil products. With
the technical information of bio-polymers and natural reinforcements a database was created with the
mechanical performance of several possible components for the prospect green composite. Following
the review, an assessment is performed where aspects of suitability for the candidate elements in terms
of mechanical properties are analyzed. In that section, renewable materials for matrix and reinforcement
are screened accordingly in order to identify which hold both adequate strength and stiffness performance along with affordable cost so as to be a promising proposal for a green composite.
2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Green composites deriving from renewable resources bring very
promising potential to provide benets to companies, natural environment and end-customers due to dwindling petroleum resources. The shift to more sustainable constructions in
automotive industry is not only an initiative towards a more viable
environment and cost efciency but also a demand of European
regulations. The latter are playing an important role as a driving
force toward sustainable materials use. According to the European
Guideline 2000/53/EG issued by the European Commission, 85% of
the weight of a vehicle had to be recyclable by 2005. This recyclable percentage will be increased to 95% by 2015 [1]. Another way
to balance sustainability and cost is with the use of composites
in automobile panels, as introduced by a number of automakers
which use renewable materials in composites. Composites made
of renewable materials have been rampantly used in interior and
exterior body parts. Similar components are used as trim parts in
dashboards, door panels, parcel shelves, seat cushions, backrests
and cabin linings. In recent years there has been increasing interest
in the replacement of berglass in reinforced plastic composites by
natural plant bers such as jute, ax, hemp, sisal and ramie [24].
A natural based material can be dened as a product made from
renewable agricultural and forestry feedstock, including crops and
crop by-products and its residues. Although end-of-life directives
and regulations will ask for components of higher recyclability,
the use of renewable materials has not been dictated. Further
Corresponding author. Address: Instituto Superior Tecnico, Mechanical Building
2, Room 1.45, Av. Rovisco Pais 1, 1049-001 Lisbon, Portugal. Tel.: +351 926177071;
fax: +351 218474045.
E-mail address: (G. Koronis).
1359-8368/$ - see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

market penetration of green composite will occur only when their

production can be rendered cost effective and competitive to the
present injection-molded thermoplastics used on many vehicles.
Materials experts from various automakers estimate that an all-advanced-composite auto-body could be 5067% lighter than a current similarly sized steel auto-body as compared with a 4055%
mass reduction for an aluminum auto-body and a 2530% mass
reduction for an optimized steel auto-body [5]. Specically for
the future electrical vehicles chassis, the light weighting materials
approach is vital in order to offset the added weight of batteries
while at the same time lowering the curb weight and increasing
their maximum range. Such an auto-body could be even lighter
with the addition of natural bers in the composite because these
are less dense than the synthetic types.

1.1. Green interior composites in the automotive industry

In recent years, attempts have been observed to reduce the use
of expensive glass, aramid or carbon bers and also lighten considerably the cars body by taking advantage of the lower density and
cost that some natural bers provide. In that sense, renewable bers as reinforcements were vastly used in composites of interior
parts for a number of passenger and commercial vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz used an epoxy matrix with the addition of jute
in the door panels in its E-class vehicles back in 1996 [6]. Another
paradigm of green composites application appeared commercially
in 2000, when Audi launched the A2 midrange car: the door trim
panels were made of polyurethane reinforced with a mixed ax/sisal material [7]. Toyota on its turn claims to be the leading brand in
adoption of environmentally friendly materials as 100% bioplastics.
The natural ber reinforced green composite was used in the

G. Koronis et al. / Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

RAUM 2003 model in the spare tire cover. The part made of a PLA
matrix from sugar cane and sweet potato and it was reinforced
with kenaf bers [8]. Later examples are the interior components
which combine bamboo bers and a plant-based resin polybutylene succinate (PBS), and oor mats made from PLA and nylon bers
for Mitsubishi motors [9]. Toyota added the Matrix and RAV4
models to the list of vehicles using soy-based seat foams in the
summer of 2008 [10]. Recently, Ford selected wheat straw as reinforcement for a storage bin and inner lid in its 2010 Flex crossover
vehicle while BMW, for the 7 Series sedan used prepreg natural ber mats and a unique thermosetting acrylic copolymer for the
lower door panel [11]. Lately, Toyota developed an eco-plastic
made from sugar cane and will use it to line the interiors of the
cars. In fact, its rst use will be on the new CT 200 for its luggage
compartment as announced at Automotive World Congress in January 2011 [12].

1.2. Green exterior composites in the automotive industry

The concept of natural ber incorporation in exterior car parts is
not new. Dealing with an exterior part though is a more complex in
comparison to the interiors cousin parts which are protected from
weather conditions. The exterior components must be able to
withstand extreme conditions such as exposure to wetness and
chipping (not splinter due to mechanical impacts) [6]. The rst release of exteriors green composites appeared in 2000, when the
Mercedes-Benz Travego travel coach model, was equipped with a
polyester/ax-reinforced engine and transmission enclosures for
sound insulation [13]. These are the rst samples of natural bers
use for standard exterior components in a production vehicle and
represents a milestone in the application of natural bers [6]. However, these parts were under the hood and therefore it is under
question their classication as exteriors. Some years later, Daimler
Chrysler AG (Stuttgart, Germany) started using bers of the abaca
plant in place of berglass for the production of the spare tire well
covers of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, two-door coupe vehicle in
2004. They patented this novel mixture of polypropylene (PP)thermoplastic and abaca bers back in 2002 [14]. That was the rst
large-scale application (about 40 metric tons/88,000 lb per year) of
natural ber composites in an exterior part [15].
In another research project, bio-based materials were used in
high ratio content while presenting very noteworthy structural
performance. A homogenous part made of thermoset resin (PTP
prepreg) and hemp bers replaced successfully a conventional
polyester-berglass reinforced component. The novel bio-based resin consisted of 90% renewable content materials and the rest derived from petrochemicals. The green composite was placed in the
middle section between the headlights above the fender of MAN
passengers bus and was tested for its resistance to weather conditions [16]. In the ECO Elise concept car launched in July 2008, Lotus
swapped out its typical berglass reinforcements for hemp bers
in the composite body panels, the double-curvature xed hardtop
and the spoiler [17]. Sustainable hemp technical fabrics have been
used as the primary constituent in the high quality A class composite body of polyester base. Exposed hemp bers in an unpainted
stripe from the bumper to the spoiler made a striking eco-contrast
to the metallic nish which signals immediately that this car is
Some of the aforementioned concepts are indeed taking advantage of natural bers into bio-resins and are striving to combine
the optimum materials for a light weight composite production
of high renewable content. Nevertheless, these composites either
employ only partially renewable constituents or are not applied
in large surfaces of the vehicles body. Therefore, on one hand they
are not considered fully green solutions and on the other hand they


cannot contribute to great materials saving and to noteworthy

weight reduction.
2. Constituent materials for a green composite
It is presented concisely in this paragraph, an integrated procedure to identify the most adequate constituents (resin and reinforcement) for the production of a prospective green composite.
By comparing values adopted by studies regarding the mechanical
performances of bers, matrices and identical composites, it is depicted which combination holds the best potential for a composite
of fair structural performance.
2.1. The reinforcement element
Natural bers are renewable bers that grow in crop elds and
can be used as laments or reinforcements in composites manufacturing in the same way as the synthetic ones of glass for instance.
Throughout the bibliographic research it was observed that a lot of
interest for composite in automotive applications has been given to
bers like abaca [14], kenaf [18], hemp [16,17] and ax [19]. That is
partially because of their present application in other automotive
enclosures parts and consumer plastic products. Recently, noteworthy attention has been given to the abundant jute [3] and to
the stiff ramie ber [20]. Fig. 1, contains data on the annual volume
production per plant for many kinds of bers that were found on
the aforementioned studies. The data was adopted from the FAOSTAT information bulletin of the food and agriculture organization
from the United Nations.
At the outset, it is clearly understood why lots of studies are
testing jute bers in composites aiming at automobile applications
[3,21,22]. In fact, they are by far one of the most abundant ber
plants being cultivated worldwide and with fair mechanical performance. On the other hand, ax is one of the most important and
demandable bast ber in Europe. About 80% of the total world ax
crop is grown in France, Belgium, Spain, UK and Holland. Flax is relatively stronger, crisper and stiffer to handle [23]. Ramie bers are
highlighted by numerous studies because of its valuable mechanical properties. From the early years of biocomposites research, it
has been proven to provide good performance when compared to
the other bers as seen in the study of Hermann et al. [2]. More
clearly ramie is the longest and one of the strongest ne textile bers and therefore demonstrates high potential as a reinforcement
in polymer composites [7]. Currently, Yu et al. [20] showed that ramie has higher values than ax and jute and its tensile strength is
approximately that of berglass. Abaca ber (or manilla hemp) has
been proven another good exemplar for reinforcing exterior automotive parts as previously mentioned for the case of MercedesBenz cars. On the contrary, considering a recent study of Bledzki
and Jaszkiewicz [24] whereas abaca bers were tested in a composite system, they were characterized by lower mechanical
parameters in comparison to jute. The explanation for this untypical behavior of the composite could be the ber processing

Fig. 1. Annual volume grown per ber plants in world production.


G. Koronis et al. / Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

method which differed from the one of jute. Similar results were
shown in another study of the same author [25] where jute and
abaca were tested in PP matrices. In that study, the coupling agent
determined the overall performance.
2.1.1. Mechanical performance of natural bers
In order to have a broader view of the mechanical and physical
properties of different natural bers, available data from several
authors was compiled in Table 1. Indicative prices (USD/kg) which
are included in that table are adopted from several nonconcurring
sources and thus may not represent the present state.
With the values from Table 1, two graphs are created below in
Fig. 2 depicting the mechanical performance of the bers reviewed.
Average specic stiffness and specic strength were calculated as
they are important indicators of structural performance for automobile panels. The former two values happen to be the most critical engineering characteristics of automobile design over the past
years [26]. Specically, materials with high specic stiffness and
specic strength are likely to have special merit in applications
in which weight will be a critical factor. Because the values of
Youngs modulus and tensile strength used for the charts calculations were found to be different in every study, the extreme values
(of specic stiffness and strength) were marked in ranges. In parallel to that occurrence, the variation of values in the physical properties of the bers is attributable to different harvesting seasons
and/or regions of the planet.
It can be observed from Fig. 2, that there is no optimum ber
that outperforms in values all the rest in both charts. E-glass is
clearly better in terms of specic strength, but is outperformed
by kenaf, hemp and ramie in specic stiffness. In an attempt to
have an average performance similar to E-glass, a reasonable
choice could be to select hemp which is stronger than ramie and
still stiffer than E-glass. Denitely more factors are needed to
choose the optimum material besides its mechanical performance.
One factor that was not taken into account is the raw materials

cost as it varies widely with the region of harvest and season.

The selection mechanism will be further discussed and presented
in the next chapters.
2.1.2. Major concerns regarding the use of natural bers as
Parallel to the advantages natural bers bring with their use in
composites they have also drawbacks regarding their performance,
their behavior in polymeric matrix systems and their processing.
First of all, natural bers have an inability to provide a consistent
pattern of physical properties in a given year; those properties
can vary from every harvesting season and/or from harvesting region based on interchangeable sun, rain and soil conditions. Additionally, these variations can be surprisingly observed even in the
same cultivations population in between the crops. More precisely, their properties are essentially dependent on the locality,
on the part of the plant they are harvested from (leaf or stem),
the maturity of the plant and how the bers are harvested and preconditioned in the form of mats or chopped bers, woven or unwoven. All these factors result in signicant variation in properties
compared to their synthetic ber counterparts (glass) [27]. Moreover important parameters are the type of ground on which the
plant grows, the amount of water the plant receives during growth,
the year of the harvest, and most importantly the kind of processing and production route. An approach to address this problem is
to mix batches of bers from different harvests. Blending bers
provides a hedge against variability in any single ber crop. By
having multiple suppliers of ber and harvests, the ratio of bers
ensures relatively consistent performance in the nished part
[15]. Alternatively, it is introduced to the market that a genetic
transformed variety may guarantee products of constant quality
One other major negative issue of natural bers is their poor
compatibility with several polymeric matrices. That may result in
non-uniform dispersion of bers within the matrix. Their high

Table 1
Properties of several natural bers and E-glass. The values are adopted from the studies and database of [7,19,4753]. References inside the table are for price only.

Density (g/cm3)

Diameter (mm)

Tensile strength (MPa)

Young modulus (GPa)

Elongation at brake (%)

Price (USD/kilo)








Fig. 2. Mechanical performance of several bers.



G. Koronis et al. / Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

moisture sensitivity leads to severe reduction of mechanical properties and delaminating. Furthermore, low microbial resistance
and susceptibility to rotting can act as restriction factors particularly during shipment and long-term storage, as well as during
composite processing [29]. Similar to the case of wood composites,
natural bers and plastic are like oil and water, and do not mix
well. As most polymers, especially thermoplastics, are non-polar
(hydrophobic, repelling water) substances and not compatible
with polar (hydrophilic, absorbing water) wood bers and, therefore, poor adhesion between polymer and ber may result [30]. In
order to improve the afnity and adhesion between reinforcements and thermoplastic matrices in production, chemical
coupling or compatibilising agents have to be employed
[20,29,31]. Chemical coupling agents are substances, typically
polymers that are used in small quantities to treat a surface in such
a way that increased bonding occurs between the treated surface
and other surfaces.
Another primary drawback of the use of bers is the low processing temperature required (limited thermal stability). The permitted temperature is up to 200 C, above this limit the bers
start to degrade and shrink which subsequently results in lower
performance of the composite. In general, when bers are subjected to heat, the physical and/or chemical structural changes that
occur are depolymerization, hydrolysis, oxidation, dehydration,
decarboxylation, and recrystallization [32], and thus conne the
variety of resins they can be blended with [33]. In order to avoid
this processing defect, the range of temperatures has to be limited
as well as the processing time [34].
All the aforementioned aspects render the natural bers incorporation in exterior surfaces of vehicles complicated, especially
when legislations in force and requirements of safety demand certain levels of performance to be fullled. For that reason, car makers are skeptical for their use in the exterior body panels even if
they are widely used for interiors or hidden parts of the vehicles
chassis. On the other hand, when composites containing natural bers are used, there are added benets achieved as enhanced environmental performance due to the lower density of natural ber in
comparison to glass. Those results were presented in the study of
Alves et al. [3] where simulation tests were done on a jute ber/

polyester hood part compared with a conventional berglass/polyester component.

2.2. The matrix material
Several matrix materials deriving from renewable resources may
well represent promising candidates for application in a green
composite either being biodegradable or non-biodegradable. The
emerging issue henceforth is the level of recyclability and/or decom
position when they are disposed of. In the case of a hypothetical
100% bio-based composite, even if the material could not be recycled
directly there are ways to be opted out through incineration for energy recovery. In the case of incineration, there are no emissions of
toxic gases [35] and by decomposition there are no gases at all.
On one hand, traditional thermosets render the overall product
not easily recyclable. On the other hand, traditional thermoplastics
have processing limitations as high melt viscosity, a serious problem in the case of injection molding processing. The novel bio-based
thermosets (plant oil-based resins) resembling the synthetic thermosets (phenolics, polyesters, epoxies, etc.) are indeed difcult to
recycle and reuse but can be later decomposed in most cases. Also,
some, but not all, soybean resins or other plant oils can be manufactured in a way to be biodegradable [36,37]. Thermoset polymers
coming from vegetable oils are usually formed by cationic polymerization with other monomers, such as styrene, divinyl benzene, and
cyclopentadiene. In other cases epoxidized oils are converted directly, either in the presence of thermally latent catalysts to initiate
the polymerization, or in the presence of anhydrides as curing agent.
Some of these interpenetrating polymer networks are also potentially (bio) degradable in soil [38,39]. All these additives are synthetic derivatives and non-renewable and thus they are not
contributing to a total green composite manufacturing. It would
be preferable then to opt for materials which are bio-thermoplastics
that do not need the polymerization process and may combine both
benets of recyclability and prospect disposal.
2.2.1. Mechanical performance of natural resins
Table 2 shows information from several studies on bio-resins
for green composites production. Once again, because the values

Table 2
Properties of natural polymers in relation with polypropylene. The values are adopted from other studies [7,5764]. References inside the table are for price only.

Density (g/cm3)

Melting point (Tm C)

Tensile strength (MPa)

Young modulus (GPa)

Elongation at brake (%)

Price (USD/kilo)

Thermoplastic starch







Fig. 3. Mechanical performance of several polymer resins.



G. Koronis et al. / Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

were differing in each study, the extreme values were marked in

ranges. Contrary to natural bers though, these bio-based resins
provide reproducible properties since they are industrialized products designed specically for a number of applications in the consumer market. The acronyms listed in the table are the following:
PLA represents the poly(lactic acid) and PLLA is the poly-L-lactide,
they are both thermoplastic aliphatic polyester. PHB stands for
polyhydroxybutyrate another aliphatic polyester, and PHBV is the
copolymer poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate). Finally
PP acronym represents the conventional polypropylene polymer.
Raw materials in each study are provided from several suppliers
which may provide different bids regarding the ordered quantity
per year or per shipment. Furthermore, the price of each polymer
does not represent a direct performance measure. While for instance PHB has almost the same strength of PP, its price is very
high comparing to PLA, which makes it inefcient in cost for large
scale applications. With the data provided by Table 2, two different
graphs were created as seen on Fig. 3 which are in accordance to
the same modeling that was followed in the charts in the previous
Focusing on Fig. 3, it is again observed that there is no optimum
resin that outperforms all the rest in performance in both charts.
PP outperforms the rest in strength but it falls behind PLA and
PHB in the average stiffness chart to the right. What is important
to mention here is that PP has a short range of variations and at
the same time high performance values, for that reason its average
performance is higher than the other resins presented here. Alternatively, if only maximum values were considered, PP would have
held lower ranks in both graphs.

2.2.2. Major concerns regarding the use of bio-based resins as matrices

Bio-resins are resin or resin formulations derived from a biological source and can be biodegradable or compostable, hypothetically after their use they can be disposed and decomposed.
Insofar as the decomposition nature, their use on A-class nish surfaces is rather problematic considering long-life applications without delicate treatments and/or coating. That also may occur in
natural bers as they may degrade even in synthetic resins due
to the inevitable void contend of the composite.
Another major drawback for those kinds of resins is their high
cost which makes them unaffordable even for large scale productions. An example of this is the polylactic acid (PLA) resin, a commonly used bio-resin that is at least 1.5 times more expensive
than the extensively used synthetic resin PP (while PLA is the less
expensive of the biopolymers as seen on Table 2). Some other
drawbacks of bio-based resins include brittleness, low heat distortion temperature, high gas permeability, low melt viscosity for further processing which restrict their use in a wide-range of
applications [40].
Finally there is a grand debate for whether or not these materials represent a real sustainable alternative to conventional plastics.
Considering a future shift from the current synthetic-based to a
bio-based dominant plastics economy, it is rather possible that
the economic stability relations between societies will be torn
down. Such a shift requires substitution of many common raw
materials that are currently produced in vast from fossil (petrochemical) or mineral resources, by products produced from renewable (plant-based) resource [41]. The sensitive point in the
adequate selection of materials is that the occurring composite
should not contain materials from edible sources for instance. Edible crops or any kind of edible raw material can subtract a part of
food quantity from the human food chain and may result in social
upheaval in the global balance of the food supply. Additionally, the
upcoming bioplastics industry has to deal with the dilemma of
whether the bioplastics will be likely to decrease the fertile lands,

or increase the incentive to cut down forested areas to create more

arable land.
One way to tackle one of the forthcoming problems is by producing the desirable quantity of materials in the lab through
microbial production (e.g. biotechnological fermentation processes). Renewable polyesters based upon biotechnological fermentation processes have been successfully produced and are
currently being introduced to the market as well as about 90% of
the literature on lactic acid production is focused on the same process [41]. However, in such processes cheap raw materials should
be improved further to make them competitive with the chemically derived ones [42]. The question then arises if these laboratory
produced green materials can be considered natural and what their
environmental impact is during production. This paper will not address these issues.

2.3. Mechanical performance of green composites

Green composites fabricated using plant bers (cellulose) and
resins such as modied starches and proteins have already been
demonstrated in the interiors of automobiles while few examples
have been shown for exteriors. Novel green composites have been
tested in numerous studies in an attempt to explore their performance in several applications. Table 3, illustrates a number of studies that tested several types of reinforced bio-resins with different
kinds of natural bers. The traditional composite of PP berglass
reinforcement is referred below so as to have a comparison to the
novel green candidates.
With the data provided in Table 3, two different graphs are presented in Fig. 4, following the same graph modeling as Figs. 2 and
3. It is observable that in most cases green composites made of PLA,
PLLA and natural bers like ax, ramie or jute resemble the performance of the traditional PP-berglass reinforced composites. Noteworthy performance is representing the ax reinforced PLLA
composite comparing to PP-berglass as seen in the study of Oksman et al. [43] (instance 8, 9 in Table 3) where ax shows better
performance when blended with PLLA rather than with PP. Furthermore, jute ber appears to have higher compatibility to PLA
than the PP, PHB or starch matrices judging by their mechanical
performance. On the study of Bledzki and Jaszkiewicz [24] (instance 5 in Table 3), jute bers show the highest tensile strength
within the natural ber group, although the jute ber composites
are characterized by lower mechanical values comparing to abaca
reinforced ones. This could be an outcome of the ber processing
method used [24].
Therefore, only the knowledge of mechanical properties of the
tested composites is not sufcient for assessing the full performance of the resulting composite. Those composites have been
produced in different molds and with different ber treatments.
Each manufacturing method can result in different performances
of the produced composites and subsequently it is impractical to
compare studies with dissimilar processing. But since there are
no akin studies in all levels indentied so far in order to have a full
comparative review for green composites with different bers, this
study will suggest an intermediate way to qualify the composites
constituent elements.

3. Selection using ternary diagrams

Cost/unit tensile strength ($$/MPa) is regularly one of the most
important criteria and materials with lower cost/unit strength are
preferable. However, the main limitation of this explanation is that
it considers only one property as the most critical and ignores the
others [44].


G. Koronis et al. / Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

Table 3
Mechanical properties of several green composites bers and PP + GFR composites.

1. Starch + 30% jute

2. PLA + 30% ramie
3. PLA + 30% jute
4. PTP + 25% hemp
5. PHBV + 30% jute
6. PLLA + 30% ax
7. PHB + 30% ax
8. PLA + 30% ax
9. PP + 30% ax
10. PP + 30% jute
11. PP + 30% berglass

Elongation to break (%)

Tensile strength (MPa)

Young modulus (GPa)



2 0.2
4.8 0.2
1.8 0
0.8 0
2.3 0.2
7 1.5
1 0.2
2.7 1.5
1.4 0.1
3.01 0.22

26.3 0.55
66.8 1.7
81.9 2.9
62 2
35.2 1.3
98 12
40 2.5
53 3.1
29.1 4.2
47.9 2.7
82.8 4.0

2.5 0.23
9.6 0.36
7.2 0.3
7 0.26
9.5 0.5
4.7 0.3
8.3 0.6
5 0.4
5.8 0.47
4.62 0.11

Thermoplastic injection molding

Hot pressing sheet molding
Thermoplastic injection molding
Compression molding
Thermoplastic injection molding
Film stacking compression molding
Film stacking compression molding
Twin-screw extruder + compression moldinga
Twin-screw extruder + compression moldinga
Thermoplastic injection molding
Compression molding


n.s: Non-studied.
Long bers composite.

Fig. 4. Mechanical performance of several bers.

In order to avoid that practice; the authors will enrich the depth
of the one-dimensional factors by considering three bi-dimensional factors: specic strength, specic stiffness and cost per
weight. These factors are considered to be orthogonal as they are
uncorrelated and thus fulll their purpose and pertinence of use.
Moreover, regarding the materials that are screened, the synthetic
ones which were presented in Table 1 and Table 2 (PP for resin and
E-glass for reinforcement) are not renewable and therefore they
are out of the scope of this selection method. Their presence in
the above tables of the previous chapters was only for the purpose

of making direct performance comparisons between them and the

renewables. Fig. 5 presents two ternary diagrams which allow a
global comparison of the candidate materials for matrices and reinforcements which are intended for a 100% green composite.
3.1. The evaluation method
The ternary diagram of Fig. 5 illustrates the best materials for
different criteria weights as materials show up in different regions
of the triangles area. With the aid of this tool, the decision maker

Fig. 5. Ternary diagrams of the resin for matrix, on the left, and bers for reinforcement, on the right.


G. Koronis et al. / Composites: Part B 44 (2013) 120127

can be in a position to select the most appropriate candidate

regarding the percentage of importance given to each dimension
of the three axes. An analogous approach was used in the study
of Ribeiro et al. [45] for the constitution of the life cycle engineering methodology, though in the present study only uncorrelated
factors were considered. The weight applied in this study was also
used in another similar study [46].
The average specic stiffness and specic strength values for
resins and bers were normalized deliberately in a percentage
scale. The same modeling was followed for the cost values but in
an inverse scale which indicates that the less costly material is
the most favorable. The materials which did not show up in the
diagrams are not representing the best combination of cost/volume, specic strength and stiffness in any partitioning of these
properties. The calculation method to detect the material region
borders inside these ternary diagrams is manual. In a series of value tests the areas that each material holds inside the triangle are
tracked down. Giving an example regarding a weighted decision on
ber selection (Fig. 5 on the right), considering a decision of
305020% for cost-stiffness-strength, the best selection is hemp.
Following the choices presented for the two basic elements
regarding the green composites composition, another familiar
diagram was created but this time containing a prospect green
composite which is presented in Fig. 6. Taking the three dominant
resins (Fig. 5 on the left) and combining them with the bers that
occupy similar areas in the bers chart on the right of Fig. 5, ve
different composites were compared. Consequently, the combinations were: PLA-ax, PLA-kenaf, PLLA-curaua, PLLA-hemp and
PHB-ramie. The values of the mechanical performances of each
composite were calculated by the rule of mixtures adopting the
values from Tables 1 and 2, likewise the cost of each composite
was calculated by the percentages of the materials that it incorporates (30% reinforcement and 70% resin). The results are not expected to be accurate in absolute terms but are considered
accurate enough to have a quick snapshot of parallel comparison
in relative performance.
Once more, the possible composites with low overall ranks did
not appear on the diagram. Specically in that comparison, PLAax ranked rst both in average specic strength and cost/volume
while PHB-Ramie was the stiffest of all composites and therefore
these two dominated all the other candidates. When the relative

importance of specic stiffness in the selection process is higher

than 30% PHB-ramie is the best selection, regardless of the other
factors. The rest of possible green composites had performance
and cost values much lower than those two while not showing
appraisable values. The nal diagram could have been different if
other sets of constituent materials were chosen, however it was
preferred to combine those that were emerging as better choices
in the same regions of both diagrams of Fig. 5.
It must be noted once again that both stiffness and strength are
highly affected by the interface bonding between ber and matrix,
and that this is especially true when natural bers are considered,
with different possibilities for ber treatment. The authors considered that, all things being equal, the ternary diagrams are a good
decision making tool when three properties are considered important in the selection process. When ber treatments and composite
processing parameters are established in a relatively standard way
for these types of composites, it will be possible to build ternary
selection diagrams similar to the ones in Figs. 5 and 6.
The present study does not consider yet environmental data in
the selection criteria. However, given that weight is implicitly considered and that weight is one of the most important factors when
the environmental impact of an automobile is computed, it is our
opinion that, until more accurate data is obtained on these natural
composites, the more general approach taken in the present study
is still valid.
4. Discussion and conclusions
The application of green composites in automobile body panels
seems to be feasible as far as green composites have comparable
mechanical performance with the synthetic ones. Conversely, green
composites seem to be rather problematic due to their decomposable nature. The biodegradability issue is one problem that needs
to be addressed when aiming to 100% bio-based composites application, especially when dealing with structural parts of exterior
panels for future vehicles. More aspects have to be considered such
as reproducibility of these composites properties and their long life
cycle as parts of the exterior body parts. Unfortunately, to the present the bio-thermoplastics cost is a major barrier for their generalized use in the automotive industry but it is expected that soon
manufacturers of these materials will turn up affordable solutions
as their demand in industrial scale applications will no doubt tend
to decrease their prices to more affordable levels. The trend can also
be reversed in the sense that the necessity for environmentally conscious solutions can overturn the value chain and put a premium
price on environmental impact of current solutions.
An essential point is whether these materials can be combined
in the best way to reach the level of performance of their predecessors while having the lowest possible cost. The methodology presented above could be a rst step in the vast area of multifactor
decision making. Aspects that have to do with manufacturability
and/or supply chain were not taken into account while still very
critical and will be included in future studies.
The rst author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Portuguese FCT foundation Fundao para a Cincia e a Tecnologia;
for granting him with a PhD scholarship under reference No. SFRH/

Fig. 6. Ternary diagram of green composites.

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