Cork is a useful material for making a number of things — wine bottles, furniture, and cork boards, to name a few–but airplane parts? A group of Portuguese cork producers recently launched the Aerocork project, which is investigating the feasibility of replacing plastic PVC with cork in the fuselage, wings, and flaps of light aircraft. The cork-based parts could be coated in carbon fiber sheets to create a lightweight, fire-retardant material.
So why the sudden interest in cork for planes? Portugal produces over half the world’s cork supply — 157,000 tons each year — and demand is going down as the wine industry increasingly uses cheap plastic stoppers and metal screwtops. If Portugal stops harvesting its massive cork forests, desertification could result.
We’ll find out if cork is a viable aircraft material soon enough — Aerocork plans have a prototype airplane plane ready later this year.