Belgian students say flax is the new carbon-fiber for racing cars

Zero-emission racing is not a novelty, but a group of students from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) have made sportscars circular. At Fablab in Brussels, they presented an electric racing car made of biodegradable flax fibers yesterday. More than a concept, the car will be raced at Formula Student, an engineering competition for students worldwide.

Because of its lightweight and strength, racing cars often use carbon fiber baked at high temperatures in ovens. Alexis Salmon, student and manager of the VUB Racing team, explains: “Production is polluting and generates high emissions. The material is also tough to recycle. Using flax fibers can reduce production-related emissions by 37 times.”

Carbon-friendly flax

Carbon fiber production emits roughly ten times more CO2 than steel, already a worrisome contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. However, natural fibers like flax, hemp, or jute have an extremely low carbon footprint, around four times lower than steel. Moreover, these natural fibers are already widely used in the automotive industry to reinforce plastics.

Still, the students believe that the industry should leverage biocomposites more and claim that their latest project is “a way of encouraging culture and innovation (…), pushing back the boundaries of technology. (…) This benefits not only our racing team but the industry in general”.

Aiming for the top ten

Under the motto “Built not bought”, the VUB students try year after year to build the car themselves. “This year, we also developed an in-house engine,” says Sam Dilmaghanian, assistant team manager and student, adding that the team is also responsible for building the unit. “Only a handful of Formula Student teams are crazy enough to do that.” As a result, a racing car using flax-based body panels will be a first at the Formula Student race, which is held annually. With the help of 3d printers, the 36 students also manufactured the spoiler, the diffuser, and the chassis by themselves.

In addition to the VUB, UGent, and KULeuven are also taking part in the race, which takes place in the Netherlands from the 14th to the 20th of August. Forty teams from nine countries participate. “Thanks to this year’s team’s enormous passion and commitment, our aim is to finish in the top 10. That’s how we’ll show that our small Brussels team can compete with the biggest teams,” concludes Salmon.


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