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Published on May 14th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley


New Polymer Manufacturing Process Slashes Energy Use By 90%

May 14th, 2018 by  

The essence of commerce is selling stuff, but before you sell stuff you have to make stuff. Sometimes, making stuff consumes a lot of energy. Finding new ways to lower energy usage is important to reducing the carbon footprint of the products you manufacture.

polymer A case in point is manufacturing commercial aircraft and large vehicles. The process of curing just one section for such vehicles can consume over 96,000 kilowatt-hours of energy and produce more than 80 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s according to Scott White, one member of a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That’s roughly the amount of electricity needed to supply nine single family homes for one year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

“The airliner manufacturers use a curing oven that is about 60 feet in diameter and about 40 feet long — it is an incredibly massive structure filled with heating elements, fans, cooling pipes and all sorts of other complex machinery,” White says. “The temperature is raised to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit in a series of very precise steps over a roughly 24-hour cycle. It is an incredibly energy-intensive process.”

The researchers say they have found a way to make heat set polymer parts for cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes that uses one tenth as much electricity. “There is plenty of energy stored in the resin’s chemical bonds to fuel the process,” Moore said. “Learning to unleash this energy at just the right rate — not too fast, but not too slow — was key to the discovery.

“By touching what is essentially a soldering iron to one corner of the polymer surface, we can start a cascading chemical-reaction wave that propagates throughout the material,” says White. “Once triggered, the reaction uses enthalpy, or the internal energy of the polymerization reaction, to push the reaction forward and cure the material, rather than an external energy source. This development marks what could be the first major advancement to the high-performance polymer and composite manufacturing industry in almost half a century.”

The team has demonstrated that this reaction can produce safe, high quality polymers in a well controlled laboratory environment. Because it is compatible with commonly used fabrication techniques like molding, imprinting, 3-D printing, and resin infusion, the researchers envision the process being applicable to large scale production, according to Science Daily. The research findings have been published recently in the journal Nature.

For those interested in electric cars, trucks, and buses that have a lower well-to-wheel carbon footprint and have longer range due to reduced weight, the new manufacturing process is very welcome news. 


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, "Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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