Plant-based products could come out of the laboratory and into industry if a collaborative research project, part supported by the Government's Technology Foresight programme, is successful.
The products, which have been developed from food crop residues such as straw, are not being used commercially because their viability in production cannot be proved.
James Bolton, director of the BioComposites Centre at the University of Wales, says the project will aid research on the use of chemically modified plant fibres in composites and environmental clean-up.
The centre will coordinate the project, which involves the university's school of agriculture and forest sciences, Imperial College, UMIST, Loughborough University, the Building Research Establishment and seven companies, including BP Chemicals and Caledonian Paper Company.
The core of the project will be using BP Chemicals' plant in Hull to make materials in sufficient quantities so that they can be used in production trials by potential end-user firms.
Dr Bolton says a number of sub-projects have been identified. These include using plant fibre to replace glass fibre in composites. Plant fibre is 30 to 50 per cent cheaper, is lighter and less environmentally damaging.
Dr Bolton believes the project will make the United Kingdom a world leader in a new generation of plant-fibre processing techniques and give the economy a major boost.