MCI envisions bus skins made of hemp

Saturday, October 14, 2006

MCI envisions bus skins made of hemp

By Martin Cash

A $3.5 million research project could allow Motor Coach Industries to make the outer skin of its buses from hemp and flax-based alternatives instead of fibreglass in the next 18 months.

Winnipeg’s Composites Innovation Centre (CIC) is leading the research project that was kicked off yesterday with a $750,000 commitment from the federal department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Doug Michie, the plant manager of MCI’s parts subsidiary Frank Fair Industries, said part of the bus maker’s strategic plan is to develop green products.

“We have said from the start that we would be interested in being an end user of this new product,” Michie said. “We told the Composites Innovation Centre about the strength and flexibility needs of the parts. If they can develop something to replace the glass-component of the fibreglass, we would be interested.”

Sean McKay, executive director of the CIC, said the project has already formed a consortium of researchers from across the country. He said the $750,000 from the federal government will hopefully leverage the additional $2.5 million for the project.

“There is a lot of interest and a lot of potential applications for this type of product,” he said, including agricultural equipment, recreational vehicles, boats, sporting goods and civil infrastructure. “We’re happy that MCI has agreed to do a pilot run.”

Composite materials are made by embedding strong and light strands of material like glass fibres or carbon threads in a plastic material such as resin. When cured, the final product is extremely lightweight and very strong.

It is expected that using hemp or flax fibre will result in lighter weights and lower cost parts.

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved

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