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Space Hemp

This project aims to characterize the mechanical properties of plant-fiber reinforced composite materials made from Pennsylvania hemp. Worldwide, several research groups are working on characterizing the mechanical properties of plant fibers and their composites. Plant-Fiber Reinforced Polymers (PFRPs) offer environmental benefits of being renewable, biodegradable, and requiring low processing energy. Furthermore, plant fibers’ low density- 3 to 4 times lower than that of glass and carbon fibers, for example- make them especially competitive in space applications. This research project is funded by the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, on account of the advantages of PFRPs in aerospace applications.

This project contains three main objectives. The first is to develop a laboratory-scale manufacturing process for making hemp-reinforced polymer composites at Lafayette College. This is important to the sustainability aspect of the laboratory. We want to be able to manage all of the processes locally. The second objective is to test the manufactured composite for its mechanical properties, including tensile, compressive, and shear strength and stiffness. We will use this data to create a public database that will be published on this website. Our third objective is to conduct a parametric study of factors hypothesized to affect the mechanical properties of the composite. Possible factors would be encompassed by plant fiber properties (growth time, climate conditions of growth period), yarn properties (angle of twist, chemical pre-treatment), and composite properties (volume fraction, layup orientation).

Plant fiber properties are an important factor for our lab since the mechanical properties will vary based on regional growing conditions. To align with the sustainable goals of our lab, we will be locally sourcing our hemp from Lehigh University. The hemp crop at Lehigh University is explicitly for hemp research projects. The professors conducting hemp research at Lehigh University have agreed to partner with Dr. Koh pending the finalization of their 2018 growing permit. Pennsylvania has excellent growing conditions and a statewide initiative to bring hemp manufacturing, research and development to the region, making it a prime location for research of this nature.