SBIR Phase I: High Performance Structural Composites with Cellulosic Nanoparticles

Period of Performance: 01/01/2014 - 12/31/2014

$150K

Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Essentium Materials LLC
9721 Derrington Rd
Houston, TX 77064
Principal Investigator, Firm POC

Abstract

The goal of this Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project is to create cost-effective, sustainable, high performance nanocomposites for automotive and other industries. The automotive industry is currently using 2.7 billion pounds per year of sustainable polymeric composites with an estimated US market of $23 billion by 2017. The initial target is to replace heavy glass reinforcement in polymeric composites with cellulosic nanocrystals (CNCs) for car parts, providing lighter weight vehicles with increased fuel efficiency. CNCs are an abundant and renewable natural resource, with the feedstock provided by wood or waste from wood processing to make pulp, paper, and lumber. 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. Developing CNCs that can be scaled up to make larger parts at a commercially attractive price is a key objective in this research. Successful implementation of CNCs into composites could not only lighten vehicles and reduce environmental impact, but also transform a waste stream into high-value materials. This effort will address three previously encountered challenges with incorporating CNCs into polymeric thermoplastic composites, namely: (1) particle dispersion, (2) interfacial bonding, and (3) commercially viable processing methods for large-scale manufacturing for automotive and other industries. CNCs have more than twice the tensile strength of aramid fibers and a greater tensile strength and lower density than carbon fibers. Novel interfacial chemistries and processing paths will have to be developed in order to achieve proper interfacial bonding between CNCs and the polymer matrices, as well as dispersion of the CNC particles to allow the polymeric composite to realize the superior mechanical properties that CNCs can provide. The scalability and cost of the chemistries and processing will also be a primary consideration in this investigation.