State, U.S. researchers develop cheaper plastics

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, U.S., have developed composite plastics that are up to 36% lighter than those being used.

The team focussed on incorporating hollow microspheres into high density polyethylene, the most commonly moulded plastic product.

Through a trial and error method spanning two years, researchers have managed to shed plastic use by 20%. They have 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 have 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 of 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 remained intact despite the processes of industrial moulding.

By successfully imbibing hollow spheres into otherwise solid plastic base, Prof. Doddamani said the density of the material was brought down by nearly half. The end material was found to have a significantly greater ability to absorb energy.

The researchers believe that this could see 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.

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