THE concept of growing a tractor may not be pure fantasy after all.
The Composites Innovation Centre's ongoing development of the use of locally grown agricultural fibres mixed with resin and pressurized and heated into light-weight, durable materials that could be used in industrial parts manufacturing has taken another step closer to reality.
Buhler Industries has successfully tested a number of parts -- including the hood, bumpers and fan in-take component on its Versatile tractors -- and run them through a Manitoba harvest season. The parts held up just as well as traditional fibreglass parts.
Made from a resin-infused combination of locally grown hemp mixed with coarser agave biofibre, along with some fibreglass and cork for added support, the parts withstood the rigours of a Prairie harvest.
The project was a partnership between the Composites Innovation Centre (CIC), Buhler Industries -- the manufacturers of Versatile Tractors -- and the Eastside Group of Companies, a Winnipeg parts manufacturer.
The CIC has built demonstration parts before for model vehicles but this was the first time biofibre parts were put through heavy-duty testing.
"We were finally able to test the biofibre in practical application in the field," said CIC spokesman Ryan Paradis.
A Buhler official said he was impressed with the extent biofibre technology has developed in five years, the last time Buhler engaged in a similar test.
Sean McKay, the executive director of the CIC said, "This is another important step in the continuum of commercializing this kind of technology."
The CIC has been at the forefront in North America of developing industrial usage of biofibre parts. It could become an important element of sustainability for the manufacture of many types of transportation equipment, reducing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process and making lighter and better materials.
"We're seeing the results every day now," Paradis said. "We're seeing properties that are equal to, if not better than traditional materials."
The project was assisted by $154,000 in funding through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program, funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and, in Manitoba, delivered by the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council.
McKay said substantial project funding proposals are awaiting confirmation that could ramp up the development process even further.
As well, McKay said important inroads are being made toward the establishment of a local manufacturing facility that can make the biofibre mats that can eventually be fashioned into specific parts.
He said one of the major impediments to commercial deployment of these types of material is the establishment of a proper supply chain that original equipment manufacturers can rely on for ongoing production needs.
The CIC is also developing something called Fibre City, a project that will, among other things, establish industry grading standards for biofibres so manufacturers can be certain of the structural properties that can be achieved from various types of biofibres.