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BAMCO: using bamboo fibre to decarbonise aviation

In 2018, seven companies (Expleo, Arkema, Cobratex, Mecano ID, Specific Polymers) and research laboratories (CIRIMAT, Compositadour) joined forces to create the BAMCO consortium aimed at developing biosourced composite materials, with the emphasis on bamboo fibre. A promising way ahead for reducing the environmental impact of aeronautics. Edouard Sherwood, CEO of Cobratex, and Philippe Ponteins, Innovation Manager at Expleo explain.

What was the background to the BAMCO project?

Philippe Ponteins: BAMCO was founded on our determination to develop 100% biosourced composite materials based on bamboo fibre using collective innovation dynamics. Seven years ago, we were already looking into the problems associated with materials used in the aviation sector here at Expleo. We predicted that the fibreglass/phenolic resin composites used to make aircraft cabin fittings would pose a long-term toxicity problem. So we started looking for alternative solutions. We launched a three-year study on bamboo fibre to demonstrate its viability. In creating this consortium, the aim was to be able to benefit from the skills and expertise of each member, with a view to future-proofing our project. Expleo, a global player in engineering, technology and consulting, promoted the project.

Why work on bamboo fibre?

Edouard Sherwood: From a lot of standpoints, bamboo fibre delivers even more advantages than fibreglass, linen or hemp. Primarily, its production has a lower environmental impact because it emits less CO2. It’s also less toxic, with an average improvement of 50% on all Life Cycle Assessment criteria including human toxicity. Because it’s a plant that takes several years to mature, its production is not prone to climatic variations. Finally, when parts made from bamboo reach the end of their life, they can be recycled to create green energy. At Cobratex we have designed our own patented process to produce a unique reinforcement material that gets the best out of bamboo and shows impressive mechanical properties: very low density and therefore very light weight, good cushioning, good reaction to water absorption, and good thermal and acoustic insulation. This product is already used in many fields: sports, luggage, decoration, cars, prostheses, or even in the shipping industry.

Why are materials made from bamboo a significant innovation in aviation?

Edouard Sherwood: The aeronautics industry is now faced with the major challenge of decarbonisation. To achieve this goal, this market needs alternative solutions in terms of the materials used and their production processes. Our bamboo reinforcements have the advantage of being compatible with conventional, commonly used resins. And because they are very low density, they’re a great asset in reducing the weight of aircraft parts. For instance, here in the BAMCO consortium we have developed a luggage door that is twice as light as conventional doors. And we are very proud to have achieved Aerospace Valley and Solar Impulse certification.

Is it reasonable to expect widespread use of bamboo fibre in the sector?

Philippe Ponteins: We are looking into the feasibility of using BAMCO materials in aircraft interior design. Applied to both light and commercial aviation, this innovation holds promise. Bamboo bio-composites could be used in cabin fittings, fuselage skin and trim panels, and even service galleys. Our next step is to test these innovations on a large scale, expand our product range, and improve our production capacity. We’ve gained credibility, now it's time for mass production.