From paper, cordage, furniture, and handicraft industries, uses of abaca (Musa textilis Nee) have extended to natural fiber-reinforced plastic composite material to replace some parts of cars.
Dr. Leslie Joy Lanticse-Diaz, chair, Department of Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, University of the Philippines Diliman, shared this information with natural fiber stakeholders at the recently concluded National Conference on Natural Fibers held at Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati City. The study conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Diaz aimed, among other things, to incorporate the natural fiber into plastic matrices for various applications. Research results show that the fiber of abaca or Manila hemp displayed a tensile strength of up to 970 MPa, which means that 140,686 pounds per square inch of force is needed to break this fiber. Abaca fiber was also reported to reach a maximum of 3 meters that gives it the advantage of length. She explained that these were among the factors that made abaca fiber viable for automotive composites. The researchers also concluded that weave construction and weave patterns are significant parameters to be optimized to ensure better control and consistency in the properties of the composite to be constructed with abaca as the natural fiber reinforcement.
“Mercedes-Benz manufacturer Daimler Chrysler started studying abaca fiber around 2005,” Dr. Diaz noted. Abaca fiber has since been used as a composite material in the standard underbody cover for the spare-wheel compartment of the three-door version of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class model according to an information from Daimler Chrysler.
The Philippines is the major producer of abaca in the world with 85 percent market share based on the recent figures from the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA). With this in mind, the researchers think that the country should lead in advancing the use of this natural fiber beyond paper, cordage, and handcrafted products.
Dr. Diaz presented the paper “Indigenous Natural Fibers for Engineering Applications in the Automotive and Construction Industries” at the conference organized by the Philippine Textile Research Institute and the Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development, both agencies of the Department of Science and Technology, in celebration of 2009 as UN-declared International Year of Natural Fibers. Highlights of the event include the latest technology developments and innovations in natural fiber production, processing, and utilization as fiber stakeholders discussed the current and future trends of Philippine natural fibers in consonance with global challenges.
Reports on the production and post-harvest technologies developed by the National Abaca Research Center, Visayas State University, Leyte by Dr. Ruben M. Gapasin; challenges faced by the enterprise in producing natural fibers and their conversion into premium products as experienced by the Labo Progressive Multipurpose Cooperative (LPMPC) by Mr. Mario M. Espeso, general manager, LPMPC; and prospect of the Philippine fibers in the domestic and international markets by Ms. Cecilia Gloria J. Soriano, administrator, FIDA, were well received by participants in this one-day conference. (Arlene R. Obmerga, S&T Media Service)