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SciTech

What the hemp! Abaca fibers to be used in car manufacturing


Who knew that the humble abaca would catch the attention of car manufacturer Chrysler-Damlier as a material to create state-of-the-art, natural composites for car parts?
 
Since 2004, Chrysler-Damlier has been looking into the use of abaca or Manila hemp embedded in polypopyrene (PP) thermoplastic as a substitute to glass fiber used in the exterior of most cars.

In a study they submitted in 2007 to eXPRESS Polymers Letters, they were able to show that PP composites reinforced with abaca showed high tensile and structural strength similar to that of glass fiber, the material used in underbody protection of cars.
 
Abaca reinforced PP composites are also lighter compared to glass fiber, which could lead to fuel and energy saving for vehicles.
 
The Philippines, which produces 85 percent of the world’s abaca, has also seen the potential of using abaca to help improve our local automotive industry, the humble jeepney in particular.
 
The DOST Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) sees abaca's potential as a roofing material for public utility vehicles. Abaca’s low heat conductivity would help prevent most of the sun’s heat from entering the vehicle’s cab, making the jeepney cooler on the inside; which is especially helpful during the long summer months. 
 
No genetic data on abaca
 
But in order to fully realize abaca’s potential, there has to be some assurance that the quality and quantity of abaca produced in the Philippines will be maintained or improved upon in the future.

To do that, complete genetic information of our endemic abaca is needed. Knowing abaca’s genomic make-up will help scientists preserve the strain, protect it from pests and figure out ways to improve on its features either through cross-breeding or genetic manipulations.
 
It’s surprising to note that there is no genomic information available on local abaca. To remedy this, the Department of Science and Technology will be featuring projects in developing genomic resources for abaca during National Biotechnology Week this November 25-29 in order to drum up interest in the abaca and to encourage industries to do more research in its potential applications.
 
Henry Ford and the Hemp Car
 
This isn’t the first time that hemp ( the plant family that abaca belongs to) was used in the automobile industry. Hemp seed oil and biomass have been used and are still being used as biofuels for diesel engines. And in 1941 Henry Ford and his team of engineers released a prototype vehicle with a bioplastic car body made of cellulose (from hemp and and other natural fibers like pine and ramie) and resin binder.

They built it hoping to prove that natural fibers are lighter and can be just as strong as metal used in cars of that era. — JDS, GMA News
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