WMG supports innovation in polymer science for a sustainable future
WMG researchers based in the International Institute for Nanocomposites Manufacturing (IINM) have been developing a range of polymer-based solutions for application across several critical sectors, including renewable energy, sustainable transport, and replacement of single use plastics, helping to contribute to a sustainable future.
Here’s a summary of the key projects.
Renewable Energy: Graphene Enabled All Polymer Solar Thermal Cell
Professor Tony McNally working with Dr Sandeep Kumar in partnership with Senergy Innovations Ltd, has submitted patent applications to the UK Intellectual Property Office that describe 2D material filled polymers for use in Solar Thermal Cells. Critically, the materials developed have very high ‘in-plane’ and ‘through-plane’ thermal conductivity and can be processed using conventional polymer processing methods.
The project was supported by BEIS £11M Energy Entrepreneurs Fund. This scheme is for the development and demonstration of state-of-the art technologies, products, and processes in the areas of energy efficiency, power generation, and heat and electricity storage.
Christine Boyle, CEO of Senergy Innovations Ltd, commented: " Working with the IINM and WMG has allowed Senergy to push the boundaries with innovative technology that has the potential to bring a lot of societal good in sustainability and job creation, also enabling future innovation within the business. Dramatic cost reductions of more than 40% are possible when solar thermal systems are re-engineered with high performance polymers. In 2022 we will work alongside our early customers to showcase how the Senergy solar panels can now reduce the cost of delivering solar hot water and heating to a price point that will finally compete with gas and oil."
Professor McNally said: “We are really excited by this exploitation of our research which has far reaching applications in numerous other sectors, including thermal management in electronic devices and electric vehicles.”
Sustainable Transport: New Chemistry Enables Conventional Sulphur-vulcanised Tyre Tread Rubbers to Self-heal
Dr Chaoying Wan working with Dr Alan Wemyss in collaboration with Bridgestone EMIA have recently filed a patent application which describes the design and inclusion of dynamic bonds in vulcanised rubbers. This allows the conventional covalent-crosslinked rubber networks to be adaptive to external mechanical damage, self-healable and be reprocessed. The dynamic crosslinking networks also promise excellent mechanical properties and fatigue-resistance that are comparable to conventional rubber vulcanizates.
Dr Raffaele di Ronza, R&D Open Innovation Expert at Bridgestone EMIA commented: “At Bridgestone we have a high focus on sustainability and material technologies to extend tyre life, a key element of our strategy in this field. Through this collaboration with WMG we could explore new solutions that support the realisation of our long-terms targets.”
Dr Chaoying Wan said: “We are delighted with the progress that has been made in improving the sustainability of vulcanised rubber products during our collaboration with Bridgestone. We are now able to further our understanding of self-healing vulcanised rubbers thanks also to the support from WMG and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult which will take us further towards in-depth understanding of elastomer science and new technology development for sustainable elastomer manufacturing.”
Replacement of single-use plastics: Sustainable Bioplastics for Food Packaging Applications
Dr Chaoying Wan and Professor McNally in partnership with Pujing Chemical Industry Co., Ltd., have developed fully biodegradable plastics with the gas barrier and mechanical properties required for food packaging applications. Poly(glycolic acid) or PGA has great potential as a substitute for current single-use plastics used in food packaging applications but with a lower carbon footprint. By blending and promoting interfacial interactions between PGA and other bioplastics, such as PBAT, the team have developed sustainable plastics for food packaging.
In collaboration with Sherkin Technologies UK Ltd., the team have been able to enhance the barrier properties of PGA/PBAT further by crosslinking the outer surface of the films using low energy electron beam treatment.
Dr Bowen Tan, Research Manager (UK), Pujing Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. Stated: “We collaborated with WMG on a research project on the blending of biodegradable plastics for flexible packaging applications. They have provided specialist and a wealth of expertise on plastic processing and modification. WMG is equipped with a wide range of polymer processing and testing equipment which enable our research to be carried out from small to manufacturing scales. The outcome of the project was beyond our expectation.”
Mr Donal O’Sullivan, Managing Director, Sherkin Technologies UK Ltd. Commented: “Plastic packaging plays an important role in the reduction of food waste. Biodegradable food packaging usage has great potential to meet local and global targets for the use of sustainable packaging. The recent work undertaken by the IINM, and their industrial partners is an important step in demonstrating the potential for Low Energy Electron Beam as a platform technology which can be deployed to improve and optimise barrier properties in a new generation of biodegradable films.”
Read more about WMG’s Nanocomposites research here: Nanocomposites (warwick.ac.uk)