Lightweight constructions save fuel and emissions. Trifilon develops sustainable and environment-friendly lightweight biocomposites with a reinforcement of natural fibers. The materials can be used for both compression molding and injection molding.

”We have a holistic view on sustainable development. For our composites, we want to consider the entire chain from raw materials to recycling. Thus we are using vegetable fibres and plastic with limited environmental impact as raw materials, to manufacture lightweight, recyclable products. The fibres come from around Europe but we are working with local producers to minimize transports and support local agriculture. Trifilon’s goals for next year are that 75 percent of the fiber should be grown within a 100 km radius from the Nyköping facility, and at least half of the plastic material should be recycled”, says Martin Lidstrand, CEO of Trifilon.

Weight minimization is key

”The weight of a product is a key issue in everything from the automotive industry to sportswear. Lighter products reduce resource usage and fuel consumption, and increase performance. Many composite materials have several of these attractive properties, but are either expensive or environmentally unsound. We have an ambition to become a game changer, by offering lighter, environment-friendly and cost-efficient materials. Our composites are based on knowledge about the longest and most sturdy fibres in nature, and how they can be used to reinforce different kinds of plastic”, Martin says.

A product of Swedish materials research

Fibrer från växten hampa bildar tillsammans med plast ett lätt och starkt material – en biokomposit. Foto: Trifilon.

Hemp fibres combined with plastics create a light and strong material – a biocomposite. Photo: Trifilon.

Trifilon AB was founded in 2012, as a spin-off from research conducted together with Linköping University. The development of composites reinforced with natural fibres began a couple of years earlier, initiated by entrepreneurs in Norrköping and Nyköping. Professor Sten Johansson and a group of students began to assemble the knowledge base that the company still develops. Early on, the company had a patent granted for BHC, a hybrid composite where natural fibres are placed between layers of carbon fiber. The materials combine to a thin composite laminate with new properties, for instance a reduced tendency to crack, and lower density.

The results were so interesting that a group of entrepreneurs started the company Trifilon AB. They wanted to make a longterm commitment to establish a Swedish composite manufacturer specializing in strong, sustainable and environment-friendly lightweight materials. Many industries are working hard to reduce the weight of their products, and demand for biocomposites is growing around the world.

”We manufactured manually laminated high-performance carbon fiber products for a couple of years: ski protective gear and light-weight kayaks, for example. We also supplied Volkswagen with automobile body parts for their autocross effort, which gave us good publicity and created a demand for our materials. After that, we shifted direction and turned towards biocomposites. We also constructed a pilot facility to be able to increase production volume. Trifilon now offers two kinds of composite materials: granulates for injection molding under the BioLite™ brand, and sheets for compression molding under the BioForm™ brand”, Martin Lidstrand says.

Lightweight material for injection molding

Granulat av biokompositen BioLiteTM kan användas i traditionella formsprutningsmaskiner. Foto: Trifilon.

Granulates of the BioLite™ biocomposite can be used in conventional injection molding machines. Photo: Trifilon.

”Carbon fiber composites are very attractive for the automotive industry and the development is driven by the ambition to reduce fuel consumption trough weight savings that does not compromise with strength and resistance. Here we have a more environmentally sound solution, and by combining plastic or recycled plastic with natural fibres, the material gets even lighter – and actually cheaper as well”, Martin Lidstrand says.

”Trifilon BioLite™ is a polypropylene matrix reinforced with natural hemp fibres. One of the important properties of the material is that the granulates can be used for volume production with regular injection and compression molding machines. The producers do not have to change their manufacturing equipment or tools”.

”Automotive components are often made from injection molded plastic, and our material contributes to lighter vehicles. Weight is a key parameter for fuel consumption and carbon footprint. The natural fiber content further reduces climate impact. Our material provides weight savings of up to 20 percent and a 20 percent reduction in environmental impact during the product lifecycle. It also has good sound-absorbing properties”, Martin says.

”In composites, natural fibres can compete with synthetic ones. They are renewable, have lower density, improve the work environment and cause less wear on production equipment and tools. These properties, along with the recyclability, is what makes the material so interesting to the automotive industry”.

A collaboration with the plastics industry

Trifilon has recently begun a strategic collaboration with the plastic manufacturer Plastal. Together, the two companies will create customized biocomposites for bumpers and other exterior car parts. Plastal is one of Scandinavia’s largest manufacturers of injection molded parts for the automotive sector.

”By combining Plastal’s injection molding know-how and Trifilon’s expertise in natural fiber composites, we hope to quickly launch a new biocomposite into high volume production. This is a great initiative for us to really test the limits of our advanced bio-based materials. The material has been developed for superior flow properties and good surface finish”, Martin Lidstrand says.

The article was published in November 2016.