Company converts coconut husk fibers into materials for cars and homes

August 4, 2014

When Elisa Teipel, and her collaborators began their study many years ago, their aim was to take an agricultural waste item of tiny value—in this case, fibers extracted from coconut husks—and turn it into an environmentally-friendly, useful commodity….

 Company converts coconut husk fibers into materials for cars and homes

When Elisa Teipel, and her collaborators began their study many years ago, their aim was to take an agricultural waste item of tiny value—in this case, fibers extracted from coconut husks—and turn it into an environmentally-friendly, useful commodity.

Equally significant, Teipel, along with colleagues Ryan Vano, husband Blake Teipel, and Matt Kirby wanted the project to support the local economies exactly where they obtained the raw materials.

Now their new enterprise, the College Station, Texas-based Essentium Supplies, is turning out automotive trunk liners, load floors (battery pack covers in electric cars), and living wall planters, among other factors, with technologies they created that produces a composite material produced of coconut husks combined with recycled plastics.

The result is greener and price neutral, as effectively as stronger and stiffer, than the standard all-synthetic plastic fibers, and with all-natural anti-microbial properties due to a higher lignin content material.

“The coolest part is seeing some thing that was once just waste come to be a new resource,” Teipel says. “Also, it is benefitting both the atmosphere and the communities in establishing nations exactly where the coconuts are grown.”

The researchers estimate that replacing synthetic polyester fibers with coconut husk fibers, identified as coir, will reduce petroleum consumption by 2-4 million barrels and carbon dioxide emissions by 450,000 tons annually.

Also, the improved functionality and reduced weight of these supplies will lead to cost savings through increased fuel economy, saving up to 3 million gallons of gasoline per year in the United States, according to Teipel.

Ninety-5 % of the 50 billion coconuts grown worldwide are owned by ten million coconut farmers whose typical revenue is less than $2 a day, she says. Furthermore, about 85 percent of the coconut husks at the moment build pollution when they are treated like trash. “The productive adoption of these new composite components inside North American markets would in a lot of situations double the annual revenue for these farmers,” she says.

Essentium’s work is supported by a $1,018,475 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its modest enterprise innovation investigation system (SBIR) in the directorate for engineering.

Coconut (whole) and cross-section, displaying the outer husk, inner nut shell, and white coconut meat (or copra). Credit: Essentium Supplies, LLC”Projects that use waste supplies as a feedstock to make value-added merchandise are a best match for NSF SBIR due to the fact we look to support entrepreneurs who can ‘do excellent by carrying out nicely,”‘ says Ben Schrag, the project’s system director at NSF. “We think that little corporations with revolutionary technologies hold the crucial to solving lots of of the broader societal and environmental difficulties faced by the nation and the globe.

“New material ideas that incorporate waste supplies are also becoming increasingly appealing to lots of consumers and organizations,” he adds. “This is creating substantial opportunities for shrewd and dedicated technologists and entrepreneurs.”

The idea to use coconut husk material originated about seven years ago when Teipel was in graduate college.

“We were definitely interested in seeing how we could support people today in other parts of the planet with financial improvement perform,” she says. “Initially, we have been looking in Papua New Guinea. A former professor of mine, Walter Bradley, who has because retired from Baylor University, recommended we look at accessible components and what we could do with them, initially to generate electrical energy.

“Coconut was a single of the most readily accessible materials that farmers and people today in the neighborhood had access to,” she adds. “So we took a appear and wondered no matter if coconut was a viable engineering material, and what we could do with it.”

At the time, farmers harvested coconuts only to produce coconut milk and coconut oil, when the husks and fiber were viewed as waste. Yet the students believed they could take the fibers and convert them into a usable item whilst “elevating both the dignity of the people and the dignity of the resources,” she says.

It was a process of trial and error to develop the material in the lab, then try it in a production setting. “The initial phase of the analysis was to attempt to comprehend the inherent properties of these waste materials to establish viable applications,” Teipel says. “We discovered that coconut fiber, for instance, is a big, stiff fiber with a really high elongation (25-40 %), creating it a all-natural decision for molded automotive items.”

The group then worked with numerous manufacturing providers to develop distinctive material blends and densities, testing out material blends, such as experimenting with diverse binder fibers, and processing procedures. “In the course of the industrial development phase, it was crucial to guarantee that these supplies with all-natural content material could pass the strict automotive requirements such as odor and flammability in order to be approved for use in vehicles,” she says.

Enlarge Ford Concentrate Electric Loadfloor produced with coconut fiber composite. Credit: SPE Automotive DivThese days Essentium performs in the Philippines with regional neighborhood development groups to extract the fibers from the husks and shells, perform performed close to the plants where the coconut milk and meat processing occurs.

The fibers are separated from the husk then packed and shipped to the United States where they are combined with other fibers, typically recycled and reclaimed fibers, and turned into a material that resembles felt. This nonwoven felt can then be molded or formed into components that can go into a automobile.

“The coconut fiber nonwoven material, the first product from the EssenTex™ line, was launched in the Ford Concentrate Electric vehicle in the load floor,” Teipel says. “There are other parts that should really be released in the subsequent 12 months. Outdoors of automotive, the EssenTex™ line has discovered a household as a moisture mat absorber in the BrightGreen living wall planter available at Williams Sonoma and House Depot nation-wide.”

Essentium also has coconut waste solutions from the coconut shell in a bio-recycled component on the Ford F-250 Super Duty, and in a kitchen cutting board referred to as “Coco-poly” readily available at Bed, Bath & Beyond, she adds.

“Our company was built kind the idea that you can turn waste into resource,” she says. “New components supply opportunities for engineering applications worldwide and far more importantly for farmers abroad waste can be new found treasure.

“As supplies folks, we recognize the significance of selecting and developing the right supplies for the job, and recognize that there are a lot of waste streams that can be utilized to create new and improved materials and merchandise that have extra positive aspects than just much better performance,” she adds. “In the end, our company is about transforming waste in order to transform people’s lives. We want our engineering decisions to increase people’s lives and make the planet a improved location.”