Historically, mineral fibers such as asbestos held a prominent place in a broad range of industrial applications. Since the middle of the 20th century, glass and ceramic fibers have been used in a myriad of critical applications, appearing everywhere in our everyday lives.
Synthetic organic fibers from polyester to Kevlar, and regenerated cellulose such as viscose rayon and cellulose acetate, have conquered large markets.
Fibers are used
as thermal insulation materials, and a broad range of nonwoven materials
are well established in applications ranging from personal hygiene products
to critical surgical materials.
Click the earth for tables on fiber sources and uses worldwide.
Cellulosic natural fibers (CNFs) have recently made a comeback with an array of novel technical uses, in FRPs among other things. Particularly promising is the growing use of flax, jute, sisal, and hemp fibers by a majority of multinational automakers. CNFs now reinforce door panels, seat backs, and trunk and head liners in many new car models. Natural fibers are also making inroads into the fiberglass-dominated European market for insulation mats. Pulps from nonwoods, such as flax, bamboo, hemp, and esparto, are developing new niches in specialty and commodity papers.
The successful introduction of innovative fiber products or improvements
to existing product lines requires close attention to the entire
value chain from the farm and factory through process and product
development, regulatory analysis, and life cycle evaluation to
financing and market development. Dealing with this complexity
demands an interdisciplinary approach and real-life expertise
in agronomy, biology, fiber availability, emerging technologies,
product development, market structures, and economic trends; in
other words, a team of experts.