Fiber for structural reinforcement has a lengthy history. It is known that the Mesopotamian's used straw to reinforce their clay bricks over 3500 years ago. Ancient mortars have even been reinforced with horse hair. Bast fibers (hemp, flax, jute, kenaf, etc.) have been used for centuries (if not millennia), in clothing, construction and ropes.
Asbestos, found in everything from insulation to roof shingles, has been around since the early 1900s. In fact, asbestos is still used in some countries, despite being banned in much of the world due to its carcinogenic properties.
Glass, steel and plastic fibers have been standards for fiber reinforcement since the 1960's. Fiberglass is the most used fiber for reinforcement paneling, from storage tanks to boat hulls. Steel fiber is used primarily in concrete to increase impact resistance, and plastic fibers are used everywhere from clothing to concrete to body armor.
Becoming commercially available in the 21st century, carbon fiber is primarily used as a replacement for fiberglass in high-end applications, such as sailboat masts, golf clubs, and rockets, as glass fiber is not thin or light enough.
Within the last decade, sustainability has become a greater and more impacting global issue, making it desirable to displace non-renewable or energy-intensive fibers (i.e. glass, plastic, steel, carbon) with natural fibers (i.e. hemp, flax, wood, etc.).
Types of Fiber
There are numerous types of fiber, broken into two (2) primary categories; natural and manufactured.
Natural fibers can be extracted from plant, animal, insect, microbe (natural organic) and mineral sources (natural inorganic), and refined for industrial use.
Of over 100 plant types capable of supplying fiber, the most structural fiber come from those where extraction is from the stem. Due to the plant stem needing flexural strength against wind, these fibers, such as those found in hemp, have evolved into the strongest natural fibers.
Manufactured fiber are fibers produced by industrial processes. There are three (3) types of manufactured fiber;
- Regenerated natural: fibers that chemically breakdown natural fibers, reconstituting them into higher purity fibers with improved engineering properties.
- Synthetic organic: fibers that are manufactured from oil, gas, coal or agriculturally derived organic feedstock, such as polypropylene or rubber.
- Inorganic synthetic: fibers that are manufactured from inorganic feedstocks that are usually produced from a mined sources such as fiberglass.