Category Archives: Materials

Commoditization of Materials R&D Now Threatens the Materials and Chemicals Industry

Commoditization has been the constant story of the chemicals and materials industry since the earliest discoveries that enabled large scale material production. Historically new processes, competition, and business models have pushed the manufacture of once-specialty materials like PET, PVC, and polyolefins towards commoditization, making them cheaper, more available, and interchangeable with the competition. Today, digital technologies are causing these same changes in the materials R&D process and the process of materials selection and part manufacture. The actions and skills that underlie the materials and chemicals industry are undergoing commoditization, with major ramifications for how every material is produced and utilized, now and in the future.

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Toyota’s Adoption of Carbon Fiber SMC a Small but Important Win for Automotive Carbon Composites

Mitsubishi Rayon recently announced that the new Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid (PHV) will adopt a carbon fiber (CF) sheet molding compound (SMC). SMC is a form of thermoset chopped fiber composite; glass fiber reinforced SMC is already commonly in use in the automotive industry. Toyota will use the SMC to form the structure of the rear lift gate of the Prius. It appears that the CF lift gate will only be used on the PHV variants of the Prius. Continue reading

The Race for Bio-Based Tire Additives: Amyris and Kuraray Come out in Front

Early March gave us two announcements pertaining to bio-based additives in car tires: American Process (API) announced a joint development agreement (JDA) with Birla Carbon to combine nanocellulose and carbon black in tires; and Amyris announced that Sumitomo Rubber has adopted the liquid farnesene rubber (LFR) developed with Kuraray for Dunlop-branded Winter Maxx 02 tires. Because downstream application development is one of the biggest challenges for new bio-based materials (see the report “Navigating the Web of Bio-based Performance Materials” [client registration required]), we chose to evaluate how well the materials fit the announced applications: Continue reading

Recent Lignin Announcements Show Repeated Mistakes, Not Progress

February 2017 had two noteworthy announcements pertaining to lignin-based materials: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland announced the development of a reactive lignin product to replace phenol in phenol formaldehyde adhesives and the Institute of Textile Chemistry and Chemical Fibers (ITCF) Denkendorf announced its participation in the “LIBRE Project” (Lignin Based Carbon Fibers for Composites). However, lignin’s successful use in materials has faced challenges including processing, derivatization, lignin’s unpleasant odor and dark colors, and questionable cost and performance benefits ([see the report “Assessing Lignin-based Material Innovations“] client registration required). As such, we have given Lux Takes based on the probability of these announcements for overcoming these issues: Continue reading

CNT-Modified CFRPs Offer the Possibility of Sensing Structures to the Aerospace Industry

Researchers at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI), the University of Bristol’s Advanced Composite Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), and aerospace company Bombardier teamed up to develop a carbon nanotube-based material that is to replace the polymer sizing in carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs) for aerospace applications. This research team grew carbon nanotubes (CNTs) on carbon fiber by using low temperature photo-thermal chemical vapor deposition (PT-CVD) and using a metallic interlayer between CNTs and carbon fiber to minimize substrate degradation. According to the research team, using CNTs to replace polymer sizing improved the mechanical integrity of the carbon fiber fabric, as well as enhanced electrical and thermal conductivity of CFRPs. Moreover, the use of CNT enables CFRPs to integrate electronic gadgets (such as sensors, energy harvesting lighting, and communication antennae) in the structure, while still maintaining structural integrity. The research team is now working to scale their technology for production using roll-to-roll systems. Continue reading

A Discussion With Avantium’s CFO Regarding Its Acquisition of Liquid Light

Bio-based chemicals developer Avantium (client registration required) recently announced that it acquired the IP portfolio and equipment, and recruited two to three full-time research employees, of Liquid Light (client registration required), a company that had previously focused on the electrochemical conversion of CO2 to monoethylene glycol (MEG) and other chemicals. Avantium’s primary technology converts glucose and fructose to furan-2,5-dicarboxylic acid (FDCA). Avantium then combines FDCA with MEG to produce polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a polyester with improved barrier and mechanical properties over polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Given the significance of this announcement, we reached out to Avantium’s CFO Frank Roerink to learn more about the acquisition and its implications on Avantium. Continue reading

Webinar – Better, Faster, and Cheaper: How Emerging Design and Manufacturing Tools Improve Materials Development

Developers face rising pressure to bring novel, high performance materials to market faster and cheaper. Yet, most materials fail to meet commercial expectations, and lengthy timelines limit attractiveness to investors. On average, materials R&D takes as long today as it did decades ago. Now, emerging design and manufacturing tools such as 3D printing, 3D scanning, material informatics software, and modeling and simulation software, are beginning to accelerate materials and part design times. Continue reading

Bio-Based Polymers to Be a Key BBMC Opportunity in 2017

2016 marked a shift in the bio-based materials and chemicals (BBMC) industry. Because of sustained low oil prices, changing consumer demand, and emerging regulatory drivers, we saw synthetic biology advance with machine learning and robotics, performance emerge as the main driver in enabling sustainability, and bio-based become the new foundation of personal care and cosmetics. In particular, bio-based polymers have stood out as a key opportunity for performance to drive sustainability in applications such as packaging. 2016 ended with a handful of announcements related to bio-based polymers. Lux highlights three of the most noteworthy announcements as the industry continues to pivot in 2017: Continue reading

Shape Memory Metals Used in Infrastructure for the First Time: An Important Case Study in Smart Material Commercialization

A new bridge being built in downtown Seattle is the first to feature shape memory metals in an infrastructure. The bridge, a small exit ramp in downtown Seattle, is supported by two reinforced concrete columns that feature the new materials. The project is a collaboration between the Washington Department of Transportation and researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno; the developmental work was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation among other government agencies. The bridge features nickel-titanium (NiTi) shape memory alloy rods in the top third of the columns, which are both superelastic and enable the recovery of the pillar to its original shape. The columns also use traditional steel rebar. The concrete used in the columns features a high loading chopped fiber reinforcement to enhance flexibility. The bridge is designed not just to survive earthquakes, but remain in service after an earthquake without the need for repairs. The bridge materials and design demonstrated recovery of up to 9% deformation in full-scale testing. Continue reading