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The new optimized plasma treatment process for natural fibers, developed under the leadership of Dr. Bernd Schieche and Martin Bellmann (M.Eng.), is designed to increase the service life of biohybrid fiber composites when exposed to fluctuating temperatures, humidity or UV radiation, for example. This new procedure is currently being developed as part of a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) project for the state of Lower Saxony, which is being run at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Technology at HAWK. The team of researchers is at HANNOVER MESSE 2019 to show that the materials they’ve developed are ideal for use in the automotive industry because, unlike plastics reinforced with carbon or glass fibers, their materials tend not to shatter when damaged, thus significantly increasing safety.

These biohybrid fiber composites, produced by combining natural fibers and conventional carbon fibers, are said to bring together the advantages of both fiber types in a way that best suits the intended purpose. However, until now, the inadequate durability of biohybrid fiber composites has made them unsuitable for use under critical climate conditions. Targeted plasma functionalization is set to change all that - by reportedly helping improve the properties of both the matrix polymers themselves and the fiber components, thus compensating for missing or inadequate material properties. According to HAWK, the aim of the current R&D project is to develop a cost-effective and environmentally friendly fabric and matrix treatment process that can be integrated into existing process chains and will significantly improve the material's service life and mechanical properties. By treating biohybrid fiber composites with plasma, the research team is looking to achieve a homogeneous fiber surface, which will help reduce or prevent air pockets and thereby dramatically lower the number of flaws that occur. It is anticipated this will ultimately have a significant impact on the materials’ service life.