Thursday, March 22, 2012

DOST eyes prospects for abaca industry

Abaca, considered as the strongest natural fiber in the world, s the only one that can match the durability of synthetic fibers. Because of abaca’s strength, it was originally used for ship rigging and other heavy-duty industrial applications.  Up to the present, the Philippines is the world’s leading producer of abaca fiber, which is why abaca is also called Manila hemp.

It is mainly grown in the Eastern Visayas and Bicol regions and remains the backbone of the livelihoods of thousands of families in those parts of the country. 

Because of abaca’s socioeconomic impact on many Filipinos, the Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI), a research and development agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), continues to encourage activities that strengthen the abaca industry.

 In a DOST- ITDI-sponsored seminar, Dr. Hitoshi Takagi of the University of Tokushima in Japan, discussed the topic “Characterization of Abaca Fiber Reinforced Green Composites,” in which he offered a comparative study between the properties of untreated abaca fiber and abaca fiber treated with green composites.

 According to Dr. Takagi, the said process strengthens every single strand of a fiber by solidifying its lumen, or the strand’s hollow part. The use of green composites, he added, will make abaca fiber stronger and more heat resistant than bamboo fiber.

As such, this process has the clear potential to boost and revive the local abaca sector by posing a challenge to the dominance of synthetic fibers in the global market.

 Meanwhile, Dr. Byung-Sun Kim, a principal researcher at the Korea Institute of Material Science (KIMS), gave a detailed look on the many and varied applications of natural fiber composites in items around us.

Among the many uses he presented was the use of abaca fiber as roofing material for public utility jeepneys. Dr. Kim said that unlike steel, abaca has lower heat conductivity that can keep temperatures cooler inside the jeep, a major benefit considering the country’s tropical warmth and humidity.

Likewise, he urged Filipinos to patronize locally handcrafted bags made from natural fibers as a substitute for plastic bags when shopping. He noted that the use of “bayong” was common but has since fallen out of favor among shoppers. However, Dr. Kim said that plastic bags contribute significantly to the growing problem of waste disposal, and that these are often the reason for the clogging of sewers and waterways especially in Metro Manila.

 Dr. Kim is also looking forward to collaborating with ITDI in abaca fiber R&D, a proposal met with support in the gathering because of its potential impact to abaca producers as well as related industries such as ropemaking, handicraft, and garments.

 The  Seminar on Natural Fiber Composites was participated in by representatives from other government agencies, entrepreneurs, and university students. (Ceajay N. Valerio, S&T Media Service)

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