In recent years, the demand for high performance, lightweight, fiber-reinforced composites have grown substantially. Fiberglass and carbon fiber have exemplary material properties to meet the demand and have set the industry standard for performance materials. Although these materials meet their design function, they suffer from high environmental impacts throughout their life cycle and are not cost effective to produce. Flax fiber composites have comparable properties to fiberglass but can be produced more efficiently and production requires much less energy consumption. Flax is a readily available, renewable material that will easily biodegrade once it is the end of its useful life is reached. Flax is also a sustainable option, taking only 100 days to grow, being very efficient in water usage and grows in long continuous fibers making manufacturing less labor intensive.
To show that natural flax fiber composites can be applied to producing a lightweight load bearing product where carbon fiber or fiberglass may traditionally be used, an I-beam composed of natural fibers and natural core was be designed, constructed, and will be entered in to the 2019 Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) Student Bridge Competition in Charlotte, North Carolina. The requirements of the competition state the design load of 3000 lbf and a maximum size of 4” x 4” x 24”. This project utilized computer simulations and experimental data to examine differing methods of optimization for weight reduction while still maintaining structural integrity. The data was then used to determine the final beam design for the competition and subsequently the beam was produced.