Scientists and engineers at the University of Exeter are investigating whether hemp and other natural materials could be used to make sustainable and eco-friendly brake pads. The £400,000 research project will be carried out for the DTI by Exeter Advanced Technologies (X-AT), which is based at the University. Eight other partners from the automotive and crop industries will take part.
Currently 20,000 tonnes of brake materials pollute the environment in the UK each year. Pollution occurs not just from cars and lorries but from tube trains, trains and trams. Alternative natural fibres, like hemp and sisal, will cut pollution and create cost savings. For instance, replacing Kevlar with hemp would make production cheaper by a multiple of at least fifteen.
Dr. Luke Savage of X-AT said: 'This process began with the removal of asbestos from brake pads in the 1980s. Its replacement, Aramid fibre (often known as Kevlar) is very expensive. Eco-friendly alternatives such as jute, hemp, nettle, and flax are all much, much cheaper. The team at X-AT is excited by the possibility of a break-through replacement which will revolutionise brake manufacture and protect the environment.'
The project has two main aims: to encourage the removal of harmful materials used in brake pads, and to create a new market for agricultural crops within the automotive industry.
There will be major cost savings for the automotive industry if X-AT and its partners can find a workable alternative to the Kevlar (Aramid), lead and antimony used in brakes. Kevlar is expensive at £14 to 20 per kg compared to hemp and sisal at under £1.
There are 80 million sets of brake pads / shoes changed on UK vehicles each year. The replacement parts market for brakes (shoes and pads) is £450 million - based on 2001 figures.
For more information on brake components