Researchers have combined a polymer material with the shape of a common kitchen tool to help better control the design and application of coatings for various products and surfaces. A team at Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering developed a technique that shows how microscopic bottlebrush polymers are drawn to the top and bottom of a coating applied to a surface. The discovery could lead to a way to customize the properties of coatings for specific applications.

microscopic bottlebrush copolymer materials, Rice University, Brown School of Engineering
Rice University graduate student Hao Mei holds a plate with a pattern of bottlebrush polymers spelling “RICE.” The microscopic polymers could give industry exquisite control over the properties of surface coatings. (Image source: Jeff Fitlow)

The research was led by Rafael Verduzco, an associate professor and chemical and biomolecular engineer at Rice who has been studying so-called bottlebrush copolymers for some time. He and his collaborators now have developed models and methods to refine surface coatings to make them, for instance, more waterproof or more conductive, depending on what an application demands.

Coatings are a key interest for Verduzco because they can be the difference between a successful product and one that fails, he said. “Coatings are ubiquitous,” he said in a press statement. “If we didn’t have the right coatings, our materials would degrade quickly. They would react in ways we don’t want them to.”

Because of this, coating a surface is a separate and different way of thinking than the product itself. Therefore, different processes have to be applied to this part of creating something new, he said. “You make something and then you have to find a way to deposit a coating on top of it,” said Verduzco.

Same name, different use

Resembling the kitchen implements of the same name, bottlebrushes consist of small polymer chains that radiate outward from a linear polymer rod.  The bottlebrushes self-assemble in a solution, which researchers than can work with to adjust their properties. “What we’re looking at is a kind of universal additive, a molecule you can blend with whatever you’re making that will spontaneously go to the surface or the interface,” said Verduzco. “That’s how we ended up using bottlebrushes.”

What researchers discovered in their work is that bottlebrushes mixed with linear polymers tend to migrate to the top and bottom of a thin film as it dries. These films, as coatings, are ubiquitous in products; for instance, they are currently used as waterproof layers to keep metals from rusting or fabrics from staining.

During this migration, the linear polymers hold the center while the bottlebrushes migrate to the air above or to the substrate below. This, in effect, decouples the properties of the coating from its exposed surfaces. “The chemistry of these materials is advanced sufficiently that you can pretty much put just about any kind of polymer as one of these bristles on the side chain,” said Verduzco. “You can put them in different order.”

Researchers published a paper on their work in the American Chemical Society journal Macromolecules.

The team conducted computational models and experiments demonstrating that variations in the bottlebrush itself could be used to control surface characteristics, making these polymers useful in coating applications.

Applications for these materials include drug delivery via functionalized bottlebrushes that form micelles; lubricants; soft elastomers; and even surfaces that heal themselves. However, one challenge researchers still face is that bottlebrush polymers are still difficult to make in bulk.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!

Image souce: Automobili Lamborghini

An advance in super capacitor technology by partners Automobili Lamborghini and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology promises to make this method of energy storage and release even more suitable for fast Italian hybrid-electric super sports cars. The patented technique doubles the energy density of the capacitor compared to the current state of the art, according to Lamborghini.

The new patented material was synthesized by professor Mircea Dincă’s team in the laboratories of MIT’s Chemistry Department with the support of Lamborghini’s Concept Development Department, and it is based on the “Metal-Organic Frameworks” (MOF) concept. The molecular structure of this family of materials makes it the ideal candidate for producing electrodes for high performance supercapacitors of the future, because it maximizes the amount of surface area exposed to electric charge in relation to the mass and volume of the sample.

While the patented material is still in the lab and not in the factory, the company does not see any obvious issues preventing manufacturing production-ready capacitors that use it. “The investigation about production of the technology is at the very beginning, but at the moment we don’t see many obstacles,” Maurizio Reggiani, chief technical officer, told Design News.

Reggiani (left) and Dincă (right). Image source: Automobili Lamborghini

Of course, after manufacturability, the next question with new technology is the cost, though a maker of high-end sports cars is less sensitive to cost than others. “Costs have not been evaluated yet,” Reggiani reported.

Lamborghini has been outspoken in its intention to preserve the auditory characteristics of its signature naturally aspirated V10 and V12 engines despite the industrywide move to forced induction. Instead, the Italian supercar maker will rely on electric boosting to keep its machines competitive with turbocharged rivals’ performance while preserving the shriek its customers love.

But rather than follow the conventional hybrid-electric route, using lithium-ion batteries, Lamborghini is pursuing capacitors for energy storage. “There’re several very interesting characteristics,” Reggiani explained. “The power density, first of all, which makes the capacitors much more powerful compared with batteries — up to three times more power for a given mass — with a symmetrical behavior which makes them able to recuperate as much power as they can deliver.  Under this aspect, the difference with batteries is huge.”

Hidden by this cover is the Sián’s super capacitor. Image source: Automobili Lamborghini

And that’s not the only benefit. “Then, the very low electrical resistance, which means high efficiency and low heat dissipation, and the very long life, measurable in millions of cycles in comparison with the thousands of cycles of the batteries,” Reggiani added.

Lamborghini began its push toward super capacitor hybrids in 2017, with the Terzo Millennio, and most recently with the Sián, which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. As for when additional such models will arrive and when they will employ this advance in technology, Lamborghini can not say just yet. “It’s too early for both questions. But the evolution of the project up to now has been quicker than expected, so we’re optimistic for the next steps as well.”

Which should be naturally aspirated music to the ears of fans of the traditional operatic V10 and V12 arias by Lamborghini’s supercars.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.


No, this is not another episode of Tanked, but something much grander in scale. Reynolds Polymer Technology Inc. (Grand Junction, CO), a global manufacturer of fully integrated, highly engineered acrylic solutions, announced that it has manufactured and completed the installation of a nearly 50-foot aquarium at the Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott hotel. The water feature is prominently displayed in the grand lobby as a central design element filled with nearly two thousand aquatic animals representing 90 different species.

Hong Kong Marriott aquarium
The acrylic cylinder measures 49 feet high and 20 feet wide. Image courtesy Reynolds Polymer Technology.

The salt-water-filled cylindrical tank comprises 14 individual pieces of acrylic bonded together with seven vertical bones and one horizontal bone in a monolithic structure. The aquarium spans three hotel floors, with the cylinder measuring 49 feet high and 20 feet wide; wall thickness is 7.5 inches.

“It’s been a true pleasure to see our highly engineered acrylic come to live in the Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott,” said Mark Johnson, Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing. “With each project Reynolds is selected for, we grow in our capabilities and are able to demonstrate our innovative nature. This water feature provides guests with an engaging sea life view right within the Ocean Park facility. From vision to concept to execution, our experienced team goes above and beyond, and that couldn’t be more true with this undertaking.”

Michael Wong, Sales Director, Asia Pacific, at Reynolds Polymer Technology, stated that “Reynolds’ role in this project proves our ability to combine the latest technologies and techniques with extraordinary styles of design and attention to detail in manufacturing quality acrylic attractions.” The Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott hotel is “an impressive feat of design and architecture in its adoption of local elements, such as the ocean inspiration, as well as a strong focus on environmentally friendly practices,” Wong added.

Reynolds Polymer Technology has successfully completed more than 1,900 groundbreaking, large-scale exhibits, displays and experiences in 57 countries for internationally known brands including CNN, Disney, NASA and Apple.


It happens every year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Stuff is on sale. All kinds of great stuff. And at incredible prices!

Person in street with shopping bags
Image: Ablokhin/Adobe Stock.

One story about the meaning of the phrase Black Friday is that retailers begin to turn a profit for the year on this day, with their net revenue number going from red to black. I have a hard time believing this. In fact, I have a hard time believing most company reports on profits and losses. I also have a hard time believing general statements on many corporate decisions. Often, the reasoning boils down to a simple statement: It’s not economically feasible.

I took my collection of PE film bags to my local Vons supermarket two days before Thanksgiving. The bag had been sitting in the trunk of my car for several weeks. Someone had referred me to a page to find a collection site. I entered my ZIP code, saw the name Vons on the list, got rather excited. Vons is owned by Albertsons Co., the second largest grocery company in North America. Here in Southern California, Vons stores are everywhere. When I saw Vons on the list, I assumed my local store was involved. I was wrong.

Seems my local store can’t be bothered with collecting plastic bags. I think I can guess the reason: It’s not economically feasible.

I am not an expert, but I know the basic economics of manufacturing and distribution: Fixed costs, variable costs, capital investment, amortization, overhead, gross vs. net, profit vs. loss. I know what’s involved in bringing a new product or new technology to market. Sure, there are times when something is not economically feasible, but there are also times when the real answer is: We don’t know how to do it. Or even worse: We don’t want to do it.

I don’t go shopping on Black Friday. I don’t like dealing with the crowds. Also, shopping online these days has gotten incredibly efficient. I can order anything I need online—the vendor selected based on reliability and cost efficiency—and have it delivered to my door, often at no extra cost. Sometimes, it arrives at my front door within a few hours of my ordering it. How can this be economically feasible?

The delivery itself is simple. The item is well packaged, usually in a cardboard box, with some bubble wrap, foam cushioning, packing peanuts, paper packing slips and receipts, and various PE shipping bags. If I want to keep the item, I take all of the packaging and put it in my recycling bin for curbside pickup. Of course, I am paying for this service via various taxes and fees, but I don’t know the cost breakdown, or if it is economically feasible. But the PE shipping bags I have to separate and take to a specialized collection site . . . which is not my local Vons.

But the funny thing is, if I want to return the item I just bought, with all of its packaging, all it takes is a couple of clicks. I put everything back in the box, drop it off at a local collection site and get a refund within minutes. How can this be economically feasible?

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress. In that speech, he stated that the United States should set a goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. I don’t think he used the disclaimer, just as long as it is economically feasible.

That speech inspired America. In July of 1969, we landed human beings on the surface of the moon and brought them home safely. While we left behind all kinds of trash in the process, that event changed the world.

Today, some 50 years later, we are struggling with the issue of plastic trash. Yes, there are technical problems that need to be solved, but it seems that a lot of effort is being spent trying to determine what is—and what is not—economically feasible.  

Now that is what I call a Black Friday.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

― John F. Kennedy, Address at Rice University, September 12, 1962

The next part in this series will be published on Dec. 19. If you’re a newcomer to this series, you can read part one here.

Eric LarsonEric R. Larson is a mechanical engineer with over 30 years’ experience in designing products made from plastics. He is the owner of Art of Mass Production, an engineering consulting company based in San Diego, CA. Products he has worked on have been used by millions of people around the world.

Larson is also moderator of the blog site, where he writes about the effective use of plastics. His most recent book is Poly and the Poopy Heads, a children’s book about plastics and the environment. It is available on Amazon.


It is said that everything old becomes new again, and that adage is true for chemical recycling of plastic waste. Chemical recycling is a process that has been around for more than six decades but was almost unheard of until the so-called “plastic pollution crisis” came into the spotlight. Now, resin producers are looking at anything and everything in an attempt to find solutions for ridding the planet of plastic waste.

Recycling symbol in futuristic setting

An article in the Dec. 9 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “Plastics Recycling Gets Fresh Tech Push,” authored by Saabira Chaudhuri, discusses the resurgence of chemical recycling, noting that “companies are turning to [chemical recycling] now, partly because of the need to find more recycled material to meet or forestall regulations aiming to cut emissions and waste.”

Chemical recycling ran into the same problem that mechanical recycling encounters: The cost made recycled material more expensive than virgin resin, so what’s the point? Obviously, it has become increasingly important to capture the value of plastic waste and keep it out of the environment, giving rise to the return of chemical recycling, which is getting a lot of attention specifically for difficult-to-recycle plastic waste.

On October 24, 2019, BP announced the development of BP Infinia, which enables currently unrecyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste to be diverted from landfill or incineration and, instead, transformed back into new, virgin-quality feedstock. To that end, BP plans to construct a $25-million pilot plant in Naperville, IL, to prove the technology, before progressing to full-scale commercialization, according to the company’s press release.

BP’s information noted that Infinia technology is designed to turn difficult-to-recycle PET plastic waste, such as black food trays and colored bottles, into recycled feedstock that is interchangeable with material made from traditional hydrocarbon sources. The recycled feedstock can then be used to make new PET packaging that can be recycled again and again. This could reduce the need for downcycling and divert plastic waste from landfill and incineration.

Chaudhuri mentioned that BP’s CEO, Robert Dudley, told investors earlier this year that BP sees chemical recycling as a “game changer,” but also noted that most recycling technologies have to overcome various hurdles. One of those is “getting a steady supply of material to recycle.”

What are the pros and cons, challenges and opportunities of traditional and emerging recycling technologies? How effective are returnable packaging schemes in reducing plastic waste? Clare Goldsberry tackles these questions in “Real world solutions to the plastic waste challenge.” The article can be downloaded free of charge here or by going to the Whitepapers tab on the PlasticsToday home page.

The demand for rPET is big and growing, but another obstacle is collection and, if it is to be virgin-like, eliminating contamination of the recyclate. BP said that it sees the potential to develop multiple full-scale commercial plants using this technology around the world. If deployed at scale in a number of facilities, BP estimates that the technology has the potential to prevent billions of PET bottles and trays from ending up in landfill or incineration every year.

Ineos Styrolution and Agilyx jointly announced on Dec. 9 that they are advancing the development of a polystyrene (PS) chemical recycling facility in Channahon, IL. The facility will be capable of processing up to 100 tons per day of post-consumer PS and converting it into a styrene that will go into the manufacture of new polystyrene products. The facility will leverage Agilyx’s proprietary chemical recycling technology, which breaks down polystyrene to its molecular base monomers that will be used for the creation of new styrenic polymers. This is a true circular recycling approach that enables everyday products, like a cup, to be recycled back into a cup, said the announcement.

Agilyx recently completed a successful development program for Ineos Styrolution that qualified the styrene product to Ineos’ specifications and the post-consumer PS feedstock for the process. The next phase of the project advances the engineering and design of the facility.

“This plant will dramatically increase recycling rates in the greater Chicago area, dispelling the myth that polystyrene can’t be recycled,” said Ricardo Cuetos, VP Ineos Styrolution Americas, Standard Products. “Agilyx’s chemical recycling technology is a game changer to advance the circular recycling pathway of plastics. A benefit of chemical recycling is there is no degradation over multiple cycles—the polymers can continue to create new products over and over again of the same purity and performance as virgin polystyrene. We are thrilled to partner with Agilyx on this project.”

The proprietary Agilyx process can recycle polystyrene contaminated with food and other organics and convert it back into new, food-grade plastic products or packaging. The process demonstrates that so much more post-consumer plastics in the world today can be chemically recycled into new plastic products again and become a renewable resource.

“Polystyrene is the best option for prepared food and beverage containers,” said Agilyx CEO Joe Vaillancourt. “We are excited to be working with Ineos Styrolution to advance this chemical recycling pathway that has the ability to significantly increase recycling rates all over the world.”

Image: Sergey Nivens/Adobe Stock


Kraiburg TPE is embarking on what it describes as an ambitious campaign to develop custom-engineered thermoplastic elastomers containing variable proportions of renewable raw materials. By developing customer-specific and application-specific compounds using renewable raw materials, Kraiburg TPE is aiming to meet the growing demand for environmentally-friendly and sustainable thermoplastic elastomers.

Kraiburg TPE sees tremendous potential for custom-engineered thermoplastic elastomers with adjustable proportions of renewable raw materials of up to 90%, both in the consumer market and also in the industrial and automotive markets.

Kraiburg points out that “bio” is a broad term that is by no means synonymous with “sustainable” in the sense of a strategy for saving resources and protecting the environment. Because even renewable raw materials also have carbon footprints, as well as water footprints, that can have an impact on the environmental balance, depending on their provenance and the way they are grown. Factors that play a decisive role here include irrigation, fertilizers, transport energy and energy consumed for reprocessing.

“Part of the challenge involves taking into account the environmental balance of the materials’ whole life cycles, including their impact on ecosystems and people’s health,” emphasizes CEO Franz Hinterecker from Kraiburg TPE. “It has also become apparent that what our customers expect from the properties of ‘biomaterials’ varies widely depending on the application – while at the same time we have to meet strict criteria regarding the materials’ conformity and performance.”

Kraiburg TPE’s modular system makes it possible to develop customer-specific materials with different proportions of renewable raw materials. Typical performance characteristics that are also relevant here include mechanical properties such as tensile strength and elongation, as well as processability, heat resistance and adhesion to ABS/PC or PP and PE, for example. The requirements are determined in close collaboration with each customer and translated into a sustainable and cost-effective solution by our developers.

In classical approaches, it is technically possible to produce bio-based materials with very high proportions of renewable raw materials. However, materials of this kind usually suffer from very high raw materials costs, while providing only very limited mechanical properties. However, the modular system has now enabled Kraiburg TPE to resolve this contradiction almost completely by following a new, innovative approach beside the classical one.

The initial pilot projects based on the classical approach are showing a trend towards bio-based, certifiable proportions of 20% and more. Their potential use extends to all TPE applications in the consumer, industry and automotive markets. Examples range from toothbrushes and hypoallergenic elastic watch straps to fender gaskets.

Kraiburg TPE sees tremendous potential for custom-engineered thermoplastic elastomers with adjustable proportions of renewable raw materials of up to 90%, both in the consumer market and also in the industrial and automotive segments.


Since 1950, approximately 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced worldwide, the equivalent of 176 million big rigs.

Less than 20% of that plastic has been recycled or incinerated, leaving nearly 80% to accumulate in landfills or as litter in our natural environment. Despite its significant contributions to innovation, the plastics industry has garnered increasing criticism over the years for its environmental impact. In a poll conducted by market research firm Morning Consult in 2018, a majority of people (55%) reported that they did not believe corporations were doing enough to reduce waste that could make it into the environment, and two-thirds of individuals (66%) reported that they would view companies more favorably if they implemented policies to reduce plastic waste.

So, why do we continue to use plastics in the first place?

Alex Hoffer, VP, Hoffer Plastics Corp.
The argument to remove plastics from our way of life entirely is not a feasible option for Alex Hoffer, Vice President of Sales and Operations at Hoffer Plastics Corp.

The technical answer is that plastic has a high strength-to-weight ratio and can be easily shaped into a wide variety of forms that are impermeable to liquids and are highly resistant to physical and chemical degradation. These materials can be produced at a relatively low cost, making it easier for companies to sell, scale, save and so forth. The primary challenge is that the proliferation of plastics in everyday use in combination with poor end-of-life waste management has resulted in widespread and persistent plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is present in all of the world’s major ocean basins, including remote islands, the poles and the deep seas. An additional 5 to 13 million metric tons are introduced every year.

However, consider for a moment the possibility that the plastics industry is doing more good than harm, and that the environmental issues the industry faces have more to do with recycling than production.

Here is how we should be thinking about plastics in 2020.

Plastics and the environment

Austrian environmental consultancy Denkstatt recently conducted a study to determine the impact of farmers, retailers and consumers using recyclable products (wood, tins, glass bottles and jars, and cardboard) to package their goods rather than plastic. What they found was that the mass of packaging would increase by a whopping 3.6 times, and would take more than double the energy to make, thereby increasing greenhouse gases by an astounding 2.7 times.

One common proposal for replacing plastics with different materials is to replace plastic bags with paper ones in grocery stores. While this may sound like a more sustainable solution, the data does not support it. By volume, paper takes up more room in landfills and does not disintegrate as rapidly as plastic. Because of this, plastic bags leave half the carbon footprint of cotton and paper bags.

Plastics and hunger

In my visits to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, I’ve had the honor to serve those in need of access to nutritious food. While helping stock the pantry or pass out holiday baskets, I couldn’t help but notice how food packaging alone impacts visitors’ perceptions. Most of the food at the food bank is canned or jarred, yet it is the plastic-wrapped food that always looks fresher and a little less dangerous.

Now, consider the properties of plastic that make it so attractive: It is durable, flexible, does not shatter, can breathe (or not) and is extremely lightweight. As a result, food and drink are protected from damage and preserved for previously unimaginable lengths of time.


Scientists increasingly are designing robots that can perform tasks alongside humans and do things that are too dangerous or impossible for humans. One of those tasks is to navigate tight spaces that humans have a hard time navigating.

robots, flexible robots, MIT
The new “growing robot” developed by researchers at MIT can be programmed to grow, or extend, in different directions, based on the sequence of chain units that are locked and fed out from the “growing tip,” or gearbox. (Image source: MIT)

MIT engineers have designed a robot with an appendage flexible enough to twist and turn in any necessary configuration that also can support heavy loads and apply enough power to put together parts in tight spaces. Once one task is complete, the robot can pull back the arm and extend it again at a different length or shape depending on what the next task demands.

While robots currently being designed to perform similar tasks are typically made of soft materials, the MIT robot is different, said Harry Asada, MIT professor of mechanical engineering in whose lab the robot was designed. Instead, they designed a robot by making a clever use of rigid materials.

Inspired by plants

That team–led by Tongxi Yan, a former graduate student in Asada’s lab–took inspiration the way plants grow to inform the design of the robotic arm using these materials. Plants transport fluid nutrients to their tips as they grow, then convert them into a solid material to produce a supportive stem. The MIT team mimicked this by designing the appendage in a similar way.

They designed a gearbox to represent the robot’s growing tip, similar to the bud of a plant, which is the part where nutrients flow up and feed a more rigid stem. In the box, researchers built a system of gears and motors which pulls a fluidized material. The material is comprised of 3D-printed plastic units interlocked with each other, similar to a bicycle chain.

The chain feeds into a box and turns around a winch which then sends it through a second set of motors programmed to lock certain units in the chain to neighboring units. This action creates a rigid appendage as it is fed out of the box.

Achieving new functionality

This design and movement allows the robot to function with a combination of flexibility and strength, which is what is needed for some tasks that robots currently aren’t designed to perform, Asada said. “Think about changing the oil in your car,” said Asada. “After you open the engine roof, you have to be flexible enough to make sharp turns, left and right, to get to the oil filter, and then you have to be strong enough to twist the oil filter cap to remove it.”

The team designed the robot perform such tasks, Yan said. “It can grow, retract, and grow again to a different shape, to adapt to its environment, he said.

Researchers presented their work recently at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Macau. They envision myriad uses for the machine by mounting grippers, cameras, and other sensors onto the robot’s gearbox so it can make repairs in tight spaces on airplanes or find objects in a warehouse on a high shelf without disturbing other objects.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!


Albis Plastic (Hamburg, Germany) announced the development of a plastic solution for fuel-cell applications, which is currently being validated in projects with well-known OEMs. The validation process includes Albis’ technical compounds Altech, Alfater SL TPV, Tedur L PPS and Alcom, all of which can be adapted to customer-specific requirements.

Battery-powered cars are currently being introduced to the market on a large scale, such as the VW ID, Audi e-tron, BMW i3, Opel Ampera-e and Mercedes EQC models. Albis stated that it has no doubt that CO2 emissions can be reduced while driving these vehicles, provided the energy comes from renewable sources.

However, this technology poses a number of challenges that need to be addressed, added the company, including the procurement of resources, the maximum range per load and the associated duration of loading times.

Albis Plastic fuel-cell project
Fuel-cell systems require the use of numerous materials, including metals, plastics and sealing materials, in the fuel-cell core itself as well as the hydrogen, oxygen, air supply and cooling circuit. Image courtesy Albis Plastic.

“Hybrid solutions that combine battery and fuel cells are a promising solution here,” said Ian Mills, a member of the Albis Management Board and head of the Compounding business.

Fuel-cell systems require the use of numerous materials, including metals, plastics and sealing materials. These are used both for the fuel cell core itself, the so-called “stack,” and the hydrogen, oxygen, air supply and cooling circuit. They are also used in components such as pumps, valves, compressors, pipes and connectors.

Pollutants, such as volatile components or ions, can contribute to the degradation of the fuel cell through emissions and, thus, reduce its service life and performance by changing the surfaces of the “bipolar plates,” for example. These volatile components can migrate from the materials used in the individual assemblies of the fuel cell.

“The production of a fuel-cell system from completely emission-free components is almost impossible because of the large number of individual parts and attachments,” explained Thies Wrobel, Business Development Manager—Automotive. “Therefore, the materials used must be carefully examined for emissions.”

Another important factor is production of the materials in a consistent, reproducible process using the same raw materials in a clean production environment. Given these considerations and in cooperation with OEMs, Albis has developed materials that have been tested in cooling and air supply systems.

The materials include polypropylene compounds from the Altech PP portfolio with 20%, 40% and 50% glass fibers; PPS compounds from the Tedur L portfolio with 30% and 40% glass fibers plus 15% PTE (for bearing applications); and Alfater TPV, a peroxidically cross-linked thermoplastic vulcanizate with comparable properties to elastomer/rubber in Shore A 60 and 70 hardness (for sealing applications).

Additional compounds will be tested in the future at Albis’ laboratory on a specially installed test rig.


With processors getting smaller and smaller while requiring more processing power, silicon is reaching the limits of its ability to meet the needs of future chips.

antimony, silicon, transistors, chips, processing, electronics  
Unlike other materials with electrons that scatter in many directions, the electrons in 2D antimony can be made to move together in an orderly way, giving it a high charge mobility and making the material an efficient semiconductor. (Image source: The University of Texas at Austin)

Consequently, researchers have been searching for new materials that can replace silicon while still packing a lot of processing power into a tiny punch. Assistant professor Yuanyue Liu and a research team at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) Cockrell School of Engineering have found a solution in an existing semi-metal: antimony.

The team, which also includes UT postdoctoral fellow Long Cheng and graduate student Chenmu Zhang, published a paper on their work in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Liu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said, in its 2D form, antimony shows promise as a semiconducting material for smaller chips. For one, antimony is only a couple of atomic layers thick while still having a high charge mobility, or speed with which a charge moves through the material when being pulled by an electric field. 2D antimony also has a significantly higher charge mobility than silicon, said Liu. This gives it strong potential as a building block for next-generation processors.

Antimony has already proven its worth in electronics for some semiconductor devices, such as infrared detectors. The UT researchers believe this use can be extended to future devices as well.

So far 2D antimony’s semiconducting potential has only been proven through theoretical computation. The team’s next step is to test the properties of the material with physical antimony samples.

The team’s work has broader implications; since researchers have seen antimony’s viability as a semiconductor for future devices, they also know why the material carries charge so quickly. “We have uncovered the physical origins of why antimony has a high mobility,” Liu said in a press statement.  “These findings could be used to potentially discover even better materials.”

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!