SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: MANUFACTURING
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,
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.
ISSUE 1 / 2020