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Mercedes Race Cars Adopt Natural-Fiber Bumpers

Image courtesy of Bcomp/Johannes Nollmeyer Mercedes-AMG GT4 race car
The natural-fiber bumpers developed by Bcomp are a sustainable alternative to the GT4’s existing carbon-fiber panels, matching their mechanical performance while improving safety.

Swiss sustainable lightweighting company Bcomp is now supplying its high-performance natural-fiber technologies to HWA AG — development partner of Mercedes-AMG — for the new front bumpers on Mercedes-AMG GT4 race cars. Bcomp’s bodywork will provide a sustainable alternative to the GT4’s existing carbon-fiber panels, offering equivalent mechanical performance in stiffness and weight and improving safety.

The new bumper uses Bcomp’s ampliTex and powerRibs technologies, which harness the natural advantages of flax fiber. The powerRibs reinforcement grid uses the high specific bending stiffness of flax to efficiently build up height, significantly boosting the flexural stiffness of thin-walled shell elements. The new bumpers are also safer in the event of a crash or collision and decrease the risk of punctures. Unlike the sharp fracturing and splintering of carbon fiber, ampliTex technical fabrics are more ductile on impact, whereas the powerRibs confine the damage zone, minimizing debris and risk to drivers, marshals, and spectators.

Natural-fiber bumpers reduce CO2 emissions by 85%

A full sustainability analysis concluded that the natural-fiber bumpers offered a total material emission reduction of 90% compared with the carbon-fiber parts as well as an 85% reduction in CO2 emissions from cradle-to-gate, considering all production steps from raw material to final part.

Since the new bumper is full natural fiber, it can be used for thermal energy recovery, turning approximately 80% of the energy stored in the part into renewable energy, resulting in a process without hazardous carbon waste or parts that need to go into landfill.

Anne Mink, Manager Technical Development, HWA AG, commented: “The topic of sustainability plays a major role in our company. Several awards for our efforts in the area of environmental protection are proof of this. Part of our sustainability concept is to evaluate and optimize the product life cycle with regard to environmental aspects as early as in the product development stage. Furthermore, it is our aspiration to constantly adapt our long-standing engineering know-how to current environmental requirements in order to be able to offer our customers sustainable products at the highest technological level. In Bcomp, we have got a development partner with extensive experience in sustainable materials. The result of our cooperation shows that technologically equivalent components can be created from alternative materials.”

Image courtesy of Bcomp/Johannes NollmeyerMercedes-AMG GT4 race car with natural-fiber bumpers

The natural-fiber bumpers met all racing regulations and requirements, according to Bcomp.

 

Tests validate performance claims

Reverse engineered from HWA’s original, the natural-fiber bumper’s design has been collaboratively optimized over the past 12 months. To ensure that the bumper met all racing regulations and requirements, the HWA team performed extensive mechanical testing and validation. On the HWA testbench, the stiffness of the complete front end of the Mercedes-AMG GT4 was measured, simulating the aerodynamic drag and front diffusor downforce. The tests were conducted with a carbon-fiber bumper as the benchmark and afterward with the new natural-fiber bumper, validating that the newly designed part performs to the same high-performance level.

Furthermore, part of the project was to validate the HWA in-house paint processes with ampliTex and powerRibs, optimizing the A-surface quality of the part up to a level that meets the quality standards of HWA and Mercedes-AMG motorsport. Production of the old carbon-fiber bumpers has now ceased, and all customer teams will receive the new Bcomp version with their next orders.

Applications span automotive interiors to satellite panels

“We are incredibly excited to see HWA and the Mercedes-AMG GT4 race car program embracing sustainable, natural-fiber bodywork,” said Christian Fischer, CEO and co-founder of Bcomp. “With equivalent stiffness and weight, increased safety, and an 85% reduction in carbon emissions, it is a fantastic improvement that we reached together. Development coincided with the height of the pandemic, and it was challenging at times. In fact, our first bumper build, design fitting, optimizations, and revisions were all achieved during the pandemic — a testimony to the hard work and persistence of all involved,” said Fischer.

Bcomp’s award-winning technologies are already used in 16 racing series around the world, but their applications are not restricted to motorsport. From automotive interior panels and bodywork to luxury yachting and the European Space Agency’s latest natural-fiber satellite panels, Bcomp’s technologies are relied upon wherever weight, stiffness, and sustainability are important. With the GT4 cars closely based on their road-going counterparts, these racing projects open up opportunities for future high-performance road applications.

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