SOLVE magazine Issue 01 2020 - Page 14

SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: MANUFACTURING ILLUSTRATION: SHUTTERSTOCK COULD CAR PARTS FEED THE WORLD? The transport sector has an unenviable record when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and resources sustainability, but Professor Hom Nath Dhakal intends to turn this around. He’s driving pioneering research to manufacture the next generation of transport components from organic materials. Regenerative agriculture and the automotive sector might not, at first glance, seem particularly relevant to each other. One is a primary industry, the other is the epitome of manufacturing. One is about soil health and the quest for more sustainable food production, and one is about getting places fast. But a key element of regenerative agriculture is to bolster stressed soil resources with composted material from sources off-farm – and a whole new source of such material could be millions of tonnes of vehicle components, if they are no longer made from metal and plastics but from organic materials. This is what Professor Hom Nath Dhakal from the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering believes he can achieve. As leader of the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Research Group, he’s driving a manufacturing revolution – composite vehicle parts made from natural fibres such as flax, and crop waste. “When made into a composite material, they more than compete with synthetic materials such as plastics and carbon fibre for weight, strength and endurance,” he says. If he succeeds (and technically there is no reason not to be confident, he says), the way opens for a remarkable sustainability cycle – automotive parts comprising composite materials made from crop waste which, at the end of their operational lives, become compost for the same cropping cycle producing the automotive raw materials. Add to this another scenario: if the crop waste remaining from the millions of acres of rice harvested in countries like India was cut, collected and utilised rather than burned or landfilled, another environmental stress – air pollution – could also be significantly reduced. Professor Dhakal is an expert in composite materials, and is breaking new ground in developing sustainable, lightweight composites. Composite materials are a mainstay of modern manufacturing. Usually, they take the form of plastic polymers strengthened with manufactured reinforcements such as carbon fibre and glass fibres. This combination (compositing) makes the material stronger than it would be on its own. However, the use of these non-renewable feedstocks to make composites is limited by environmental issues, particularly recycling challenges. 14 ISSUE 1 / 2020