A Life Cycle Assessment of Natural Fiber Reinforced Composites in Automotive Applications
Automakers have the opportunity to utilize bio-based composite materials to lightweight cars while replacing conventional, nonrenewable resource materials. In this study, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to understand the potential benefits and tradeoffs associated with the implementation of bio-based composite materials in automotive component production. This cradle-to-grave approach quantifies the fiber and resin production as well as material processing, use, and end of life for both a conventional glass-reinforced polypropylene component as well as a cellulose-reinforced polypropylene component. The comparison is calculated for an exterior component on a high performance vehicle. The life cycle primary energy consumption and global warming potential (GWP) are evaluated. Reduced GWP associated with the alternative component are due to the use of biomass as process energy and carbon sequestration, in addition to the alternative material component's lightweighting effect. Sensitivity analyses exploring both the effect of the automobile's lifetime as well as material sourcing is explored.