Are composites green construction materials?
The movement to make construction more environmentally friendly has focused a great deal on the use of recycled products for building, and the reduction of energy usage by the competed structure. Composites are usually not recycled materials, but they have other eco-friendly properties. Lightweight cladding materials (of which FRP is a leading example) require less support structure, so they reduce materials consumption, and reduce the energy impacts associated with the extraction, processing, and transportation of materials they eliminate.
But polymers themselves are mineral (usually petroleum) based, a non-renewable resource.
Lately, though, bio-based polymers have been emerging into the marketplace. In 2012, Evonik launched a bio-polymer based composite material, Vestamid Terra, combining a polymer derived from the castor-oil plant, with reinforcing rayon fiber derived from wood residues.
In April, 21014, Cathay Industrial Biotech, Shanghai, announced commercial production of a polyamide made 100% from plant sugars. (polyamide 5,6 trademarked Terryl).
In terms of application in the architectural world, not much seems to be happening, yet. But there is a glimmer on the horizon.
Swedish illumination manufacturer Wastberg, in collaboration with Dirk Winkel Design and BASF, has created a task lamp made out of bio-polyamide composite. The resin is 60% bio-sourced, from the castor oil plant. The reinforcement is chopped fiberglass. The lamp is made in solid cross-sections, comes in a variety of colors, and can be free-standing, or clamped to a table edge.
Not only is the resin from a renewable source, but the castor oil plant does not compete with food production because it has different agricultural requirements than food plants.
The lamp makes light using multichip LED’s, so its energy consumption is low and it reduces harsh shadows. Winkel w127 also features a nifty touch-control using an IR switch.
Will bio-based polymers move into architecture? Stay tuned!