The recently launched 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport made noise in the automotive world with the new material used for its doors and wing. It may look like carbon fiber at first, but Porsche refers to it as "natural fiber".
This material is made from flax, a plant that produces seeds and whose fibers are used in the production of linen. Thanks to technology, it has now found its way to race car parts.
Speaking at the launch of the GT4, Eduard Ene, Porsche Motorsport's composites expert, said that production of raw materials to make natural fiber takes 75 percent less energy than carbon fiber. He also stressed that natural fiber can be ground down to be used again for various purposes, whereas carbon fiber must be burned at an extremely high temperature to be disposed of.
Compared to carbon fiber, which is an extremely strong material that dramatically cracks when it breaks, this material has five times better vibration dampening properties, so it doesn't shatter when hit hard. It is also considered great on the race track as there would be less cleanup in the event of an accident.
Porsche unveiled a few various ways to produce the material including a natural fiber sandwich, which utilizes a balsawood core and natural fiber reinforced plastic, which is extremely similar to carbon reinforced plastic. These woven materials are pressed into shape utilizing the same methods used in the production of carbon fiber parts. The new GT4's doors are created utilizing a resin transfer molding process while the wing is made with a pre-impregnated process.
While natural fiber comes with excellent vibration dampening properties, it's not as robust as carbon fiber. This is why it can only be used for the doors in the 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport given that there's a roll cage in place for driver safety.
Ene further explained that natural fibers could be utilized in the development of non-structural components in a production road car such as wings, hoods, or fenders. However, though this material requires less energy to produce, it is still costlier than carbon fiber.
This year, the new GT4s are slated to race all over the world to put this new material to the test.