Cheaper plastics that are 36% lighter developed[Deck] Improved fuel efficiency a benefit, say researchers

Applying high-end technologies of the laboratory to the cruder machines used in industries, a team of researchers from the National Institute of Technology Karnataka and the New York University in the U.S., have managed to develop a breed of composite plastics that is up to 36% lighter than the ones being used.

The team directed their focus on incorporating hollow microspheres into high density polyethylene (HDPE) which is the most commonly moulded plastic product, finding use in everything from car interiors to bottle crates. Through a trial and error spanning two years, researchers have managed to shed plastic use by 20% and instead replaced it with fly ash cenospheres and glass microballoons.

“The problem with composite materials is that it is done in controlled conditions in the laboratory which cannot be replicated in the industry. But with the technique we developed, low-cost, light-weight composites can be produced at any industry using the normal compression moulding machines,” said Mrityunjay Doddamani, lead researcher and an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the institute in Surathkal.

The research — done along with M.L. Jayavardhan from NITK, B.R. Bharath Kumar from the Jain College of Engineering and Technology at Hubbali; and Ashish K. Singh, Steven E. Zeltmann and Nikhil Gupta from NYU — was published in the journal, Composites Part B, recently.

While hollow microspheres and composites are lighter and cheaper, the challenge facing the team was to ensure the microspheres remain intact despite the processes of industrial moulding. Currently, the microspheres, which are mixed with liquid plastic, tend to disintegrate into powder during moulding — and consequently, a majority of industries do not produce such composites.

However, by successfully imbibing hollow spheres (which are barely 50 micrometers in size) into otherwise solid plastic base, Prof. Doddamani said the density of the material was brought down from by nearly a half. The end material was found to have a significantly greater ability to absorb energy while being of comparable strength to pure HDPE plastics.


The researchers believe this could see in the production of more light-weight material and the reduced use of plastics. In cars and planes, for instance, the reduction in weight significantly improves fuel efficiency.

Prof. Gupta, an associate professor at NYU, said: “Materials development with industry participation can significantly reduce the entry barrier for new materials and with many small scale industries supplying parts to major manufacturers, India is well poised to benefit from the new technologies.”

The team said the next step would involve manufacturing and testing prototypes along with the industry.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 5:08:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/cheaper-plastics-that-are-36-lighter-developeddeck-improved-fuel-efficiency-a-benefit-say-researchers/article19576203.ece

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