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AquaComp Report Summary

Project ID: 697675

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AquaComp (Demonstrating the unique properties of new nanocellulose composite for automotive applications)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Elastopoli has developed nanocellulose composite (AquaComp) with superior (>30% better) mechanical, acoustic and haptic properties and is targeting to replace the existing non-renewable polymer composites in automotive market. In vehicles, the weight-to-performance ratio of mineral- and glass-filled composites is substantially improved with AquaComp composite. In addition, the ability to control the dampening frequencies of the AquaComp material will help to reduce or tune the noise inside a passenger car to desired levels by tuning the resonance frequencies of the produced parts alongside the improved mechanical properties and lowered weight. The main innovation of Elastopoli is the unique manufacturing method of the nanocomposites. The technology is based on wet mixing of polymers and nanocellulose. This is the only known method capable of introducing high amounts of nanocellulose as reinforcing fibres in the polymer matrix. The wet mixing technology solves the two main problems related to conventional dry mixing technologies. First, drying of nanocellulose is difficult and expensive leading to high composite prices. Second, when nanocellulose is dried during mixing, it loses most of its theoretical strengthening capability. This project targets to perform market replication of AquaComp composite, already validated in the musical instruments market, into the much larger automotive market. The existing technology must be further scaled-up for industrial scale production so detailed investment calculations and market strategy need to be prepared. This will enable Elastopoli to move from a niche supplier of small amounts of materials to a supplier capable of serving the automotive market at full industrial scale. To put this into perspective, in the automotive industry alone, the potential market size when replacing 10% of mineral- and glass-filled composites is 2 Mton of AquaComp composite in year 2025.
Europe has set a policy target of achieving a 60 % reduction of CO2 by 2050 compared to 1990 levels (European Union 2013). Very important in reaching this target is the reduction of emissions in passenger cars. There are multiple ways to achieve this and probably the overall solution is a combination of different efforts. One straightforward way is to reduce the weight of the vehicles which has direct impact on the fuel consumption and thus emissions. Lightweight materials have been identified as one key area to achieve the emission reduction targets. Lighter and stronger materials also contribute towards passenger safety which has also been identified as one key aspect in Smart, Green and Integrated Transport (European Union 2013). The third important aspect is making transportation quieter and reduce noise and vibration. The acoustics of AquaComp have been tailored to the needs of different instruments and acoustic components like speakers cabinets. The ability to control the dampening frequencies of the AquaComp material will help to reduce or tune the noise inside a passenger car to desired levels by tuning the resonance frequencies of the produced parts alongside the improved mechanical properties and lowered weight. The aim is to demonstrate AquaComp in several automotive applications and in large enough quantities so that the automotive industry can manufacture the products/parts in industrial scale with standard industrial methods such as compression and injection moulding, and to perform its application testing and thus approve the material in its production. Prototype design adoption will be accelerated by exploiting 3D printing which is especially an important tool when reducing the time-to-market of new materials and designs to plastics manufacturing industry.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Elastopoli has rented a pilot scale wet web line, which has enabled to increase the production capacity during the first project year to the level of 100 – 300 kg/h depending on the recipe. The line has been used to optimize the process and the production costs for mass production needs. This line is capable to use refined cellulose fibers , MFC and nanocellulose and their combinations making it possible to optimize the composites to different application sectors.

During the first project year Elastopoli has delivered samples to both automotive and household appliances applications, where the properties have been compared mainly against glass-fiber and/or mineral filled composites. AquaComp composites have shown in these material replacements competing properties with lighter weight, thus offering weight saving in these applications.

Simulation data measurements have been done for 3 grades and simulations have been performed for several technically demanding parts and the data has been evaluated and calibrated. Aquacomp composites have proved the benefits from its isotropic feature compared to strongly oriented glass-fiber filled composites. This gives huge possibilities to redesign the parts without risk of warping and sink marks having good overall strength.

Acoustic, haptic and visual properties have come up in the discussions with the potential customers and very often the designers appreciate even more these properties compared to light-weighting possibilities. For this need Elastopoli has built a special mould, where several different sample surfaces can be produced, giving to the designers real feeling of these features

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Elastopoli’s wet mixing technology has unique properties being the only known technology to achieve a homogenous mix of nanocellulose and various polymers and realize part of the potential that nanocellulose has to offer as a reinforcing material.
• High strength and modulus, yet low density leading to 30% superior properties compared to MF polymers largely used in the transportation sector.
• Isotropic structure – same properties in all 3D directions. Same shrinkage and mechanical properties in both flow and transversal directions leading to superior design possibilities compared to GF reinforced polymers largely used in the transportation sector.
• Good flowability in thin walled products – lightweight solutions (<< 1 mm, allowing also the use in 3D printing) due to the small size of reinforcing nanocellulose fibrils leading to design freedom and lighter constructions.
• Unique tailorability of haptics, acoustics and visual surface look give freedom to tailor the user experience in for example car cockpits and musical instruments.
Commercial trends are increasingly eco-conscious today. Sustainability and green values are used as marketing arguments more often. At the same time, regulatory requirements are steering production in the direction where energy consumption, waste generation and transportation costs are minimised. A good example of regulatory drivers is EU’s end of life vehicle directive that comes into force this year. The directive requires 95% recoverability and 85% recyclability on automotive production in Europe. In addition, the existing requirement to decrease CO2 emissions is in high importance to car manufacturers.
Bio-based products and addition of bio content to replace oil-based products is preferred. This also complies with the target of independence from oil and gas imports.
From industrial point of view, 3D printing is used to shorten the time-to-market, test product ideas and help with mould design together with simulation. Test marketing of small series of products is even a viable option with 3D printing. The high strength, flowability and haptic properties of Elastopoli’s AquaComp make them ideal to play a significant role in this emerging market.

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