Paris, 2 September 2020. Two years ago, Expleo, together with seven other companies and research laboratories created a consortium to share their expertise in order to develop innovative materials based on bamboo fiber reinforcement for the aviation industry.

Interested in the potential of working with an OEM, the consortium partnered with Airbus in order to benefit from their technical support in the exploration into BAMCO (Bamboo long fiber reinforced biobased Matrix Composites). With the aviation industry committed to reducing its carbon footprint, it is widely acknowledged that an holistic approach is required, encompassing the further evolution of products through the development of new materials and the continuous improvement of production processes.

Philippe Ponteins, Head of Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering at the R&D division, who oversees the BAMCO project at Expleo, and Serge Maison, Senior Scientist for Materials & Structures, who manages this project at Airbus, discuss the project.

1. Can you introduce the BAMCO project to us and what was the starting point for the collaboration between the consortium and Airbus?

Philippe Ponteins. BAMCO is a collaborative innovation project bringing together seven companies and research laboratories: Expleo, Arkéma, CIRIMAT, Cobratex, Compositadour, Mécano ID and Specific Polymers. We are working together on the development of new green composite materials made of bio-based resins and bamboo reinforcement. In addition to their natural origin, these biocomposites have physical and mechanical properties (lightness, thermal resistance, absorption of shocks and vibrations…) that could make them alternatives to certain polymer composites with high environmental impact.
Launched in the autumn of 2018, the project has entered its pre-industrialisation phase. The consortium has been in close contact with Airbus since the operational launch, and after sharing the first results, we decided to pool our expertise to accelerate the industrial development of BAMCO biocomposites.

Serge Maison. The development of new materials from the use of natural fibres is indeed one of the ways to respond to the environmental challenges that the aviation industry and the air transport ecosystem faces as a whole. After closely looking into the project and discussing some technical points with the consortium, we were interested by the potential of the BAMCO solution, in terms of its life cycle performance.

2. What are the major aviation issues the BAMCO project addresses? What needs does it fulfil?

Serge Maison. The aviation industry today faces a real societal and technological challenge: the need to be more sustainable.
For Airbus, environmental performance has always been a top-level requirement both in terms of product design and in terms of day-to-day operations in its facilities around the globe. The integration of new and advanced materials is continuously being explored, with a view to mitigating the end-to-end footprint.
The BAMCO project supports this approach by advancing the design of materials made with natural fibres and researching the potential of their integration for real world applications.

Philippe Ponteins. Making a significant contribution to industry’s environmental footprint, especially in the aviation sector, requires a holistic approach, where we think not only about products, but also about resources, the supply chain and production processes. To further the BAMCO project, at Expleo for instance, we are launching research into the recycling of composite aircraft parts at the end of their lifecycle.

3. What makes BAMCO biocomposites innovative?

Philippe Ponteins. While some solutions based on flax or hemp fibres already exist, the implementation of bamboo reinforced-based biocomposites has never been studied. BAMCO relies on the bio-based resins with the same performance as oiled resins, and the extraction of bamboo fibres in continuous ribbons or strands. The selection of the species of bamboo is key, as would be there location of its production to France, for ecological coherence.

Serge Maison. The BAMCO project allows us to expand our knowledge on the potential and behaviour of natural fibres in an aeronautical technical context. Their properties are very different from those of carbon fibres and the aim is to develop use cases for them within diverse fields of application.

4. What contributions do the project’s stakeholders make?

Philippe Ponteins. Our collaboration focuses on the development of an application case – a Radome part, which should allow us to validate the technical performance of the biocomposite material. The digital representation research, which is complementary, helps us to simulate and better understand the behaviour of materials, while optimising their performance.

Serge Maison. Airbus brings expertise in material specifications for the development of bio-based fibres and resins and we provide a case for industrial application. We are also working closely with the consortium on the development of a digital twin of a biocomposite material made from the basic parts of bamboo fibres and bio-based resins to accelerate the optimisation of material performance.

5. What results can we expect? What are the next big steps?

Serge Maison. The knowledge gained from this project will support advancements in the design and development of materials for future aircraft parts. The topic, however, is an extremely complex one and we do not foresee a firm and precise operational use case at this stage.

Philippe Ponteins. We are now halfway through the project, and extremely satisfied with the progress made and first results obtained. The bio-based resins formulated by specific polymers and Arkéma, for instance, meet the specification requirements. Cobratex has successfully implemented continuous bamboo ribbons at the desired width, and CIRIMAT has defined a protocol for extracting bamboo wicks of sufficient length to make good-sized components. Mécano ID and Compositadour made the first plates from multiaxial Bamboo preforms. In accordance with the initial operational schedule, we are now considering the production of prototype parts by the end of 2021. Expleo, responsible for the assembly, governance, and technical and contractual management of the BAMCO project, is working on the specifications definition of these prototype parts. The outlook for the coming months is therefore very promising.