The goal of the Materials Genius™ Team is to develop the materials of tomorrow so we can start building a better world today. We strongly believe in using renewable and sustainable options to develop tomorrow’s materials so we can start to eliminate the world’s reliance on finite resources. Cellulose, the most abundant organic molecule on Earth, is a renewable resource that happens to literally grow on trees. As nature’s building block, cellulose is a major component in plant cell walls and gives trees much of their structure and strength. With today’s technology, this natural resource can be isolated as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and nanofibrils (CNF). We want to harness the superior mechanical properties of these sustainable cellulose nanoparticles to develop high performance composite materials.
The Essentium Labs Materials Genius™ research team is focused on developing high strength thermoplastic composites using our innovative technology to gain the full mechanical benefit of cellulosic nanomaterials. We were awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to develop this research. Award details can be found on SBIR.gov. We will be able to achieve comparable mechanical properties to existing glass or carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites using up to 75% lower concentrations of cellulose nanoparticles. Cellulose nanomaterials also boast the advantage of having a low density, resulting in lighter weight materials without sacrificing mechanical viability. This National Science Foundation (NSF) SBIR supported research is currently in phase II development. You can learn more about the project on the NSF website.
Sustainability, low density, and high mechanical properties make cellulose nanoparticles suitable for use in lightweight structural composites that are of great interest to transportation industries. Within the automotive industry, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations are pushing for significant increases in fuel economy for vehicles, which has led to a search for innovative ways to shed vehicle weight. It has been shown that for every 10% in weight savings, vehicle fuel consumption is reduced by 7%. Our initial nanocellulose research is targeting the replacement of glass fiber composites in automotive applications where cellulose can benefit both as a sustainable material and a lightweight additive.
Nanocellulose-based composites are also replete with social, educational, and scientific benefits. The initial target application to replace heavy glass reinforcement in polymeric composites with CNCs for car parts, providing lighter weight vehicles with increased fuel efficiency, will net strong environmental benefits. On-going research on the production of CNCs from various wood sources have resulted in significant reductions in cost (with more coming), making CNCs an increasingly attractive functional natural filler. The processing of cellulose will provide jobs in both manufacturing and the high-tech sector. Successful implementation of CNCs into composites will not only lighten vehicles and reduce the environmental impact of the thermoplastic composite industry, but also lead to more sustainable, less harmful materials for future generations.