Flax fibre replaces glass and carbon in honeycomb composite

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EconCore, honeycomb sandwich producer, has collaborated with partner Flaxco, a division of Flipts & Dobbels, to make a new thermoplastic honeycomb sandwich panel.

Flaxco’s flax weaving technologise are used in a range of applications including clothing, upholstery and decoration. This has evolved into manufacturing flax fibres for the composites industry, typically found in semi-finished products such as sandwich panels.  

In 2020 Flaxco approached EconCore suggesting combination of thermoplastic honeycomb technology with Flaxco’s flax fibre technology. The polypropylene honeycomb material produced by EconCore offers a high-performance-to-weight ratio along with efficient energy absorption.  

This is achieved through the material’s eponymous honeycomb-shaped hollow cells which support sandwich sheets to provide levels of high rigidity with minimal weight. Pioneering the use of flax with honeycomb technology, the partnership sees Flaxco’s flax fabric composite skins combined with EconCore polypropylene core to produce sandwich panels.  

In order to generate high level of stiffness, sandwich cores require surface layers, like the neatly woven layers that Flaxco have the means to create. Once created, the panels can be thermoformed thanks to their thermoplastic properties. This is typically done by means of short-cycle compression moulding. 

Achieving a product with well-balanced characteristics required pre-pregs of 0.5-1mm thickness to be used. By optimising flax technology with the polypropylene honeycomb core Flaxco is able to achieve much higher levels of rigidity. 

With high levels of cost efficiency compared to more conventional materials, the new Flaxco composite is expected to be the material of choice in a number of applications, especially those requiring dimensional stability. The new material aims to not only be used in new markets and applications but also replace non-sustainable materials already in use.  

Dr. Jochen Pflug, EconCore CEO, added: “For new product developments sustainable materials have become a key requirement. Within the automotive industry in particular, suppliers seek sustainable materials which lower their CO2 footprint. Flaxco’s natural flax fibre polypropylene composites are an ideal combination with our polypropylene honeycomb cores to achieve a sustainable material that retains high levels of performance. The production costs of thick monolithic laminates are high because many layers need to be combined; our honeycombs increase the stiffness and strength, but require only a minimal amount of material in two thin surface layers.” 

One factor that has greatly benefitted the partnership between Flaxco and EconCore is the locations of their facilities; both were based in Belgium.