As the auto & mobility market continuously grows, the increased regulatory and consumer demand for sustainable, environmentally friendly innovations has become a driving force in the market. Natural fibers, with a projected global market value of $1.8 billion by 2021 in the automotive industry alone, is one of the main paths forward for sustainable innovation in the market. With potential applications ranging from door paneling, filtration components, interior lining, padding, seat fabric, and additional composite components; the potential of sustainable materials in the automotive industry is one of the largest among end users.
The first commercial example of natural fiber materials utilized in cars is the inner door panel for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which was made in Germany from a blend of flax, hemp, and sisal. After this, Audi used natural fibers for manufacturing door trim panels, and soon after, the industry took off. Lotus recently unveiled the Eco Elise, a model showcasing affordable green technologies such as hemp, eco wool, and sisal in almost every one of its parts.
Another specific component where natural fiber materials show immense value is in automotive bumpers. Bumpers undergo a lot of wear and tear as they are the first point of contact in case of a collision. Natural fiber materials make bumpers more resistant to collisions and crashes. In addition to door panels and bumpers, environmentally-conscious materials have applications in: seat backs, parcel shelves, instrument panels, armrests, headrests, seat shells, package trays, trunk liners, and engine or transmission covers.
To better understand the potential for natural fibers in the U.S. automotive industry, it is helpful to consider this industry’s European counterpart, which has adopted natural fibers much more extensively. The average motor vehicle produced in Europe in 2012 contained approximately 4lbs. of non-wood natural fibers. If this average had been the same in U.S. production, then approximately 21,594 tons (47.5M lb) of natural fibers would have been used in motor vehicles in 2014.