PLA polymer reinforced with kenaf fibers
The current rapid depletion of petroleum resources has led to the search for renewable alternatives. One response is the development of bioplastic, made of plant-derived materials (biomass). A substitute for petroleum-based materials, biomass-based materials have distinct advantages, such as the ability to reduce the CO2 gas that causes global warming and superior degradability (biodegradability) in the soil after disposal.
Dr. Masatoshi Iji and his laboratory at NEC Corporation have developed a new composite material comprised of kenaf fiber–reinforced polylactic acid. With a 90 percent biomass content, it boasts the highest biomass-based content of any current bioplastic material used for electronic equipment. Kenaf is a plant originally grown in Africa, with one of the highest rates of CO2 absorption of any plant. (Its photosynthesis rate is 3 to 9 times higher than that of ordinary plants resins, and it is capable of absorbing approximately 1.4 tons of CO2 per ton.) It is very effective in mitigating the effects of global warming and is currently being grown on other continents for its beneficial properties.
Kenaf-Reinforced Bioplastic was recently used for the casing of a Japanese mobile phone, which was the first phone in the world with a casing made mostly of bioplastic. The casing was produced without thick pigments or additional coatings, subtly revealing the kenaf fibers.
Contact: NEC Corporation, Tokyo, Japan.
For more information, see Transmaterial 2: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine our Physical Environment