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WMG supports innovation in polymer science for a sustainable future

Innovation for a sustainable futureWMG 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.”

The design for manufacture aspects of the development of the solar thermal cell were supported by the High-Volume Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and the WMG SME Team.

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 (

Tue 08 Mar 2022, 21:59 | Tags: HVM Catapult Nanocomposites Partnerships Research

Smart dielectric elastomers for self-healing soft robots

  • Soft robots must be made of a flexible and damage-tolerant material to avoid tearing
  • Materials that can self-heal damages are therefore more desirable for soft robots
  • A self-sensing and self-healing device that mimics a leaf’s motion has been made by researchers at WMG, University of Warwick – potential for soft robots

Robots that resemble organs are known as soft robots, and in order for them to function they must be made of a flexible material, however a material that can also heal itself would be a bonus if wear and tear was to occur. Researchers from WMG, University of Warwick have designed a self-healing polymers for such devices.

Soft robots, that resemble organs for example, need to be made with highly deformable materials that are capable of changes in shape to allow conformable physical contact for controlled manipulation on order to decrease the chances of mechanical damage – such as tears and punctures.

This had led to a wide interest into the development of self-healing materials and actuators, in particular, the integration of self-healing polymers for bioinspired soft self-healing devices, which are lightweight, low cost and easily processed.

Picture of time and voltage of a cut-leaf actuator and healed leaf actuatorAs an invited Communication by the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems, the work on ‘Piezoelectric-driven self-sensing leaf-mimic actuator enabled by integration of a self-healing dielectric elastomer and a piezoelectric composite’, was published on 22 March, 2021, led by the researchers from WMG, University of Warwick have designed a novel self-healing leaf-motion mimic material.

The material is made of an integrated thermoplastic methyl thioglycolate–modified styrene–butadiene–styrene elastomer (MGSBS) and piezoelectric macro fiber composite (MFC) for self-sensing applications.

The leaf-motion mimic actuator provides built-in dynamic sensing and self-healing capabilities to heal macroscale cutting damages with a room-temperature healing capacity and an intrinsic high bandwidth up to 10 kHz.

A prototype of the piezoelectric driven self-healing leaf was cut, and left for 24 hours at room temperature, in that time it had healed itself, after 48 hours it was almost untraceable where the cut had been made.

Dr Chaoying Wan, from WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“We have demonstrated the feasibility and potential of the new actuator applied to complex soft autonomous systems. This new material could fill a gap in the robotics-market, as the self-healing soft actuators can sense and repair themselves, creating new damage resistance in soft robotics.

“An example of where they could be used could be in a factory or hospital, they may get damaged from general wear and tear but can heal themselves and therefore do not need to come off duty to be fixed, therefore saving time and resources.”


27 APRIL 2021


High-res images available at:
Caption: Time and Voltage of a cut-leaf actuator and healed leaf actuator
Credit: WMG, University of Warwick

Paper available to view at:

For further information please contact:

Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 7920 531 221



Tue 27 Apr 2021, 12:40 | Tags: Nanocomposites Research

Solid-state batteries could be made more cleanly by scaling-up flash sintering

· Flash sintering is a ceramic processing technique which uses electric current to intensively heat the ceramic sample internally rather than using only external furnace heating. The process can lower ceramic processing temperatures and durations significantly, enabling ceramics to be co-processed with metals or other materials, and reducing energy use.

· However, the process can result in low quality ceramics due to weaknesses caused by inhomogeneities in the microstructure.

· The origins of these inhomogeneities caused by thermal gradients in the material during flash sintering have been studied by researchers based at WMG, University of Warwick and academic and industrial collaborators, and routes to mitigate the effects of these gradients are outlined.

· Adopting these modified flash sintering routes will enable the wider use of flash sintering in ceramic processing, enabling lower energy production of many useful ceramic products including solid-state batteries.

Densifying ceramics using flash sintering reduces energy use and may be used to improve the viability of manufacturing complex ceramic structures such as those required for solid state batteries by lowering the temperatures and shortening the duration of the heat treatment.

Working in collaboration with academic and industrial partners, researchers from WMG, University of Warwick have published a review of the state of the artPicture: Causes and Effects of thermal and microstructural gradients in flash sintered ceramics of flash sintering focusing on the formation of inhomogeneous regions within the ceramics which currently limit the scale-up potential of flash sintering. The review finds that thermal gradients are responsible for microstructural inhomogeneities and suggests of routes to eliminate or reduce these effects.

The reduction of energy use in the ceramic manufacturing industry is a key step in meeting global emissions reduction targets, as conventional processes require long firing treatments at very high temperatures. Several low-energy processes have been developed over the past decade, with flash sintering emerging as a particularly promising route for densification of materials for use in applications including solid state batteries, thermal barrier coatings, and ceramic joints.

In the paper, ‘Promoting microstructural homogeneity during flash sintering of ceramics through thermal management’ published as part of a special issue of the MRS Bulletin, Gareth Jones and Dr Claire Dancer from WMG, University of Warwick worked with collaborators from the University of Trento, Wuhan University of Technology, Normandie Université, and Lucideon Ltd to review the origins of microstructural variations in different regions of ceramic materials undergoing flash sintering.

Picture: Microstructural development changes with different sintering approaches. Flash sintering produces fine microstructures with very high density with lower energy use than conventional approaches.Differences in microstructural development originate from thermal gradients within the material during processing, and these can be reduced by careful thermal management during the flash sintering process. These include:

· Altering the method for applying electrodes

· Improving thermal homogeneity through insulation

· Tailoring the frequency of the AC current

· Developing contactless methods for applying the electric current - which are currently limited to consolidation of thermal barrier coatings.Picture: Simulation of heat distribution during flash sintering.

The findings of this review provide a roadmap for further research on thermal management in flash sintering, which will accelerate the development of the process for industrial implementation.

Dr Claire Dancer, leader of the Ceramics Group within the Materials and Sustainability Directorate at WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“Lowering ceramic processing temperatures by using techniques such as flash sintering is an essential step for manufacturing complex multi-material structures such as those needed for solid-state batteries, and for lowering overall energy use in the ceramic industry.

“However, the process must produce robust homogenous ceramic materials to be of widespread use. Our paper explains why flash sintering can result in inhomogeneous properties in ceramics and suggests a number of routes to mitigate these effects.”


9 MARCH 2021


The work has been funded by an EPSRC New Investigator Award, a PhD studentship from ERDF and Lucideon, the Royal Society, and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

High-res images available at:
Caption: Causes and Effects of thermal and microstructural gradients in flash sintered ceramics.
Credit: WMG, University of Warwick
Caption: Microstructural development changes with different sintering approaches. Flash sintering produces fine microstructures with very high density with lower energy use than conventional approaches.
Credit: WMG, University of Warwick
Caption: Simulation of heat distribution during flash sintering.
Credit: WMG, University of Warwick

Paper available to view at:

For further information please contact:

Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 7920 531 221


Tue 09 Mar 2021, 11:55 | Tags: Nanocomposites Materials and Manufacturing Research

Fellowship funding for WMG researcher

Dr David Fengwei XieWMG Research Fellow, Dr David Fengwei Xie has been awarded a prestigious five-year EPSRC Early Career Fellowship.

Based in the International Institute for Nanocomposites Manufacturing (IINM), Dr Fengwei Xie has been working on sustainable polymer materials and composites for tackling the current issues around petro-derived plastics, recycling, and single-use plastics. His fellowship will allow him to further explore in this highly important area and to develop functional, biopolymer-based composite materials with tailored structures and properties for demanding applications.

The fellowship will provide his projects with sufficient funding and a dedicated team that will engage with the public, industry and policymakers.

An EPSRC Fellowship is designed to provide the recipient with the necessary support to establish or further develop themselves as a leader of the future. The award enables the recipient to devote their time to delivering their proposed research vision.

Dr Fengwei Xie explained: “The support provided by the EPSRC will allow me to develop my technical and transferrable skills to the greatest extent, become an independent and leading academic in advanced biopolymer materials engineering, and establish and grow my own group – fulfilling my career ambition.

“I am extremely excited to be awarded this fellowship as it will allow me to continue working on ‘green’ polymer composites for people’s welfare and a sustainable future.”

Read more about WMG’s Nanocomposites research here.

Tue 15 Dec 2020, 12:28 | Tags: Nanocomposites Research

WMG and Senergy Innovations Ltd launch Graphene Enabled All Polymer Solar Thermal Cell

Christine Boyle CEO of Senergy Solar thermal cells continue to attract much interest as they have massive potential to heat water in a cost-effective and sustainable process. To date, the efficiency of these cells has been limited as the polymers used in their manufacture are poor thermal conductors.

However, thanks to funding from BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) a team of researchers led by Professor Tony McNally, from WMG, at the University of Warwick in partnership with Senergy Innovations Ltd have developed the first nanomaterial enabled all polymer solar thermal cell.

The thermal properties of the polymers employed are modified such that heat from sunlight can be transferred with high efficiency to heat water in a cheap and sustainable manner. The modular design of the cells allows for the rapid construction of a solar thermal cell array on both domestic and industry roofing.

The team are now working with a consortium of industry partners focused on manufacturing the solar thermal cells in high volumes.

Dr Greg Gibbons, at WMG, and his team have also produced the first prototype (1:1 scale) of the solar thermal cell fully manufactured by 3D printing. This activity has been transformative in guiding the design and critical aspects of the manufacture of the solar thermal cells.

Professor Tony McNally, Director of the International Institute for Nanocomposite Manufacturing (IINM), at WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“It is really pleasing to see several years of research activity and the understanding gained being translated in to a real world application. Our fundamental Solar cell testingwork on the thermal conductivity of 1D and 2D materials, including graphene, and composites of these materials with polymers could revolutionise the supply of affordable, clean and sustainable energy.”

Christine Boyle, CEO, Senergy Innovations Ltd. adds:

“Switching to advanced polymer materials meant a more efficient manufacturing process and more flexible product design. This resulted in the breakthrough of the low cost, low carbon, lightweight smart Senergy panels. Our job now is to ensure that Senergy solar panels become a key part of the smarter built environment and make renewable heating and cooling systems affordable and accessible for everyone.”


15 OCTOBER 2020


High-res images available at:
Caption: The solar cell as it went in for testing
Credit: WMG, University of Warwick
Caption: Christine Boyle, CEO of Senergy Ltd with the Solar Panel
Credit: WMG, University of Warwick

For further information please contact:
Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 7920 531 221


Thu 15 Oct 2020, 10:06 | Tags: Nanocomposites Partnerships Research

WMG PhD student attends prestigious Global Young Scientists Summit

Chris EllingfordWMG PhD student Chris Ellingford has been selected to attend the 8th Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) in Singapore from 14 to 17 January 2020.

Chris was one of only 300 participants, from across the world, and one of only five from the University of Warwick invited to attend.

GYSS gathers young researchers and scientists from across the world to encourage them to pursue their scientific ambitions. They have the chance to network with peers, as well as distinguished scientists and researchers.

The theme for this year’s event is "Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World,” with an impressive line-up of speakers including recipients of the Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Millennium Technology Prize and Turing Award.

At GYSS Chris, as one of only 100 participants selected, will present at the poster session, and take part in lectures and panel discussions, and have the opportunity to interact with speakers in informal small group sessions. Outside of the Summit, Chris will also have the chance to visit local universities and research centres to learn more about Singapore’s research and innovation ecosystem.

Chris is currently in the 4th year of his Research Degree at WMG. He is based within the Nanocomposites team investigating "Self-healing Elastomeric Nanocomposites for Actuation and Energy Harvesting."

Tue 07 Jan 2020, 14:42 | Tags: Nanocomposites Athena Swan Research

WMG welcomes a senior delegation from China Energy

WMG welcomes a senior delegation from China EnergyProfessor David Mullins, Acting Head of WMG, was delighted to welcome Mr Li Dong, Executive Vice President of China Energy to WMG.

Mr Li Dong was accompanied by a senior delegation from China Energy and subsidiary companies China Shenhua Energy Co. Ltd - the largest coal company in the world, and Pujing Chemical Industry.

WMG’s Nanocomposites research team is currently working with colleagues at China Shenhua Energy Co. Ltd and Pujing Chemical Industry on the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly fully biodegradable plastics.

Dr Chaoying Wan and Professor Tony McNally updated the guests on the project, and the delegation toured other key WMG research facilities in Composites, Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), Metrology and Battery Technology.

Professor Tony McNally said: “At a time when the sustainability of single use plastics has become a global issue, the WMG partnership with China Shenhua Energy Co. Ltd and Pujing Chemical Industry is internationally leading. Our goal is to develop fully biodegradable plastics that decompose to benign components, such as water and, that can replace many of the single use plastics used in packaging.”

Thu 04 Jul 2019, 11:20 | Tags: Nanocomposites Visits

Professor Tony McNally selected as overseas expert

Professor Tony McNallyWe are proud to announce that Professor Tony McNally has been selected by China’s Ministry of Education and State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs under Plan 111 as a Foreign Expert to advise in the manufacture and characterisation of functional composite materials.

China’s Plan 111 is jointly organised by the Ministry of Education and State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, P.R. China. It aims to gather groups of first-class minds from around the world to work with leading Chinese researchers on the creation of 100 dedicated innovation centres.

Over the next 5 years Professor McNally will be working in collaboration with the International Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing proposed by the School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT).

Professor Tony McNally announced as Editor-in-Chief of new Functional Composite Materials journal

Professor Tony McNallyProfessor Tony McNally, who heads up Nanocomposites research at WMG has been announced as the first Editor-in-Chief of the newly formed journal, Functional Composite Materials.

The Associate Editors and the Editorial Board, led by Professor McNally, include the leading academics in the field from around the world. The journal will consider contributions on all types of composite materials where composite functionality can be clearly demonstrated.

Functional Composite Materials is published by SpringerNature. The publisher producers a number of key research journals and books globally on science, technology, medicine, humanities and social sciences.

Lasers used to detect risk of heart attack and stroke

TARASCHILLERPatients at risk of heart attacks and strokes may be spotted earlier thanks to a diagnosis tool that uses near-infrared light to identify high-risk arterial plaques, according to research carried out at WMG, University of Warwick, the Baker Institute and Monash University.

The scientists observed that when they increased the wavelength of the light currently used to visualise the fatty build-up found in arteries (atherosclerotic plaques) they could selectively identify the rupture-prone deposits, which commonly lead to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

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