Carbon fiber and F1 racing have been synonymous for years. In fact, some of the greatest developments in carbon fiber technology have resulted from the industry’s partnership with auto racing. So it’s no surprise when F1 teams push the envelope to come up with new composites and better manufacturing processes.
McLaren has done just that by teaming up with Switzerland’s Bcomp to design a brand-new seat featuring a flax fiber composite. The seat offers the same strength and stiffness as the older carbon fiber seat on which it was based. But being made with natural fibers, its emissions footprint is 75% lower.
High Performance with Natural Fibers
A Composites Manufacturing magazine article from Kimberly Hoodin offers all of the juicy details about McLaren’s new seat. Needless to say, it is a high performance product made with cutting-edge materials. Hoodin explains that Bcomp’s design features two different types of trademarked materials woven from flax fibers.
Bcomp essentially designed a sandwich panel with a grid structure on one side and a fiber fabric on the other. The two surfaces are bonded together to create a single piece that matches traditional carbon fiber’s performance. The new seat is just as strong but with some extra advantages.
According to Hoodin, flax fibers bring improved vibration dampening as well as better compression, torsion, and strength to the table. It sounds like a perfect mix for an F1 car. But that’s not all. Flax fibers have helped McLaren and Bcomp build a more sustainable seat.
Less Energy and Biodegradable
Our industry has been looking at flax fibers for some time due to their environmental benefits. In fact, here at Rock West Composites, we sell natural fiber composite materials nearly identical to those chosen for McLaren’s new seat. As far as we know, we did not supply Bcomp with the fabrics they used.
At any rate, one of the things our industry most appreciates about flax fibers is that they require considerably less energy to work with. Unlike the energy-intense process required to manufacture carbon fibers, flax fibers are produced naturally. They automatically represent energy savings just getting them from their raw form into a workable fabric.
Flax fibers are also biodegradable. And although most resins used to bind the fibers together are not, some developments are under way to make the total composite completely biodegradable. So that even if McLaren were to dispose of a seat at its end of life, it would simply disintegrate over time. But even that is not necessary today. Natural fiber composites can be recycled. They can be ground or chopped into fine base material and reused for other products. It is a win-win all the way around.
The Future of Composites
We are no means prophets or prognosticators, but we can easily envision the future of composites being more focused around natural fiber materials. Carbon fibers are awesome. They have allowed us to do lots of things we could never do with steel or aluminum. But there is always room for improvement.
Natural fiber composites offering the same strength and rigidity open the door to less expensive products suitable for professional and home use. They also introduce new options for recycling that are just too expensive or impractical with carbon fiber.
Recycling is a big thing too. If we can improve the products that come from it, we can bring the cost of composites down considerably. That will allow industries that have thus far found composites cost prohibitive to explore their potential.
We are thrilled to learn what McLaren has done with flax fiber composites. If you would like to learn more about natural fiber products for your designs, reach out to us. We might have just what you’re looking for.