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Trends in polymer nanocomposites

Trends in polymer nanocomposites

By TA News Bureau:

Polymer nanotechnology is one of the major disruptors in the automobile industry. It is its unique properties – light-weight, high-strength and durability – that are boosting its importance as a strategic industrial material. The demand for polymer nanocomposites in the tyre and auto industry, for example, is reporting an annual growth rate of 11.5%. Well-known industrial consultant and rubber technologist Bireswar Banerjee, who has to his credit several patents and research papers, and who is also a visiting faculty member at several premier technology institutions, has edited a newly released book Rubber Nanocomposites and Nanotextiles in Automobiles published by Smithers Rapra Technology. He has also edited the book Tyre Retreading dealing with different elastomers utilised in the rubber compounds used in the manufacture of different types of tyre retreading process. In this interview he speaks about how nanotechnology is impacting the tyre and automobile industry worldwide

What are the major nanotechnology developments that have a decisive impact on the tyre and automobile industry?

Nanotechnology is one of the key drives behind the latest innovations in the automotive industry. In the present-day automotive industry, polymer nanocomposites are extensively employed. They show much improved properties over conventional composites even at low nanofiller loading <5 wt %. However, these composites are modified by adding additives in the form of microparticles, thermal stabilisers, chemical resistance, and flame resistance additives. Thus, the improved performance often results following an increase in material density and low fuel-efficiency.
Polymer nanocomposites offer higher performance with significant weight reduction; therefore, these materials become very effective in the transport industry especially in automotive and aerospace sectors. The importance further arises from the fact that they are light-weight as compared to conventional composites due to low filler loading and usually transparent due to very low scattering of light from nanomaterials which are embedded in polymer nanocomposites.
Over the last two decades, nanotechnology has become a significant part of all research and developments work in the field of science and technology, either directly or indirectly, and tyre technology is no exception. In prospect to this, there are a limited number of reports available that focus on the application of nanofillers such as clay, multiwalled carbon nanotubes, silica and graphene in different rubber matrices such as NR, SBR and their blends; with only a few are related to their application in tyre components.
A lack of sufficient reports detailing the intense evidence of improvement in mechanical, dynamic, and thermal properties, partially justifies the reluctance of industries to switch over from conventional carbon black to newer, safer and eco-friendly substitutes. This clearly highlights why the ‘nano-movement’ has not yet been able to bring revolutionary change to the material components of a tyre.
Abrasion resistance is a key property of a tyre tread compound and directly reflects the reinforcing efficiency. The abrasion resistance was improved greatly for as low as 3.0 phr of organoclay in NR/SBR/organoclay nanocomposites providing a good prospect for application in the tyre industry.

How will you address the concerns that the disruptions brought through nanotechnology in the tyre and automobile industry might have adverse impact on the environment?

Nevertheless there are environmental problems associated with some of the material manufacture; a number of farsighted manufacturers are already improving this aspect considerably. It is required to conduct a risk assessment and full life-cycle analysis for nanotechnology products at all stages of the products to understand the hazards of nano products and the resultant knowledge that can then be used to predict the possible positive and negative impacts of the nano scale products. It would enable choosing of the right, and less toxic materials.
The major advantages of automobile nanocomposites are superior strength and light-weight, the application of polymer nanocomposites in automotive components enables the production of light- weight vehicles, improved engine efficiency and decreased carbon dioxide emissions, which results in enhanced automobile performance.

Will the proliferation of electric vehicles that demand lighter tyres and bodies encourage utilisation of more rubber nanocomposites based on various nanomaterials?

Replacement of metal products with polymer materials in current vehicles is limited. Large amounts of light-weight materials, such as polymers / polymer nanocomposites will be greatly used to construct newly developed vehicles, including electric and electric/hybrid vehicles.
Weight reduction of vehicle is very important because the weight directly affects energy consumption. Studies researching light-weight vehicle manufacturing process that use nanocomposites and nano textiles are on. Vehicle weight directly affects energy consumption and a 10% reduction in weight increases fuel economy by approximately 7%.
Approaches towards reducing the weight of vehicles using polymers most frequently involve replacing ferrous and non-ferrous metals with polymers and increasing the specific strengths and rigidities of polymers. Researches into polymers for use in light-weight vehicle are classified into high performance polymers, polymers for weight reduction, and reinforced polymer composites.
Polymer nanocomposites are used in different components of vehicles to fulfil specific requirements. Different polymer nanocomposites can be advantageously used in several automotive applications like, engines and power-trains, chassis and body parts, exhaust system, catalytic converters, protective paints and coatings, lubrications, tyres, electric and electronic equipment. Recently, extensive research is going on in polymer nanocomposites to increase their use for automotive applications. Such as tyres, engine cover, timing belt cover, interior and exterior side trim, door inners, body panels etc.
In recent times, different polymer nanocomposites are extensively used in tyre application in order to provide extended tyre life, lower rolling resistance, abrasion resistance, reduced friction, wet traction, lower weight, improved air retention, safety and superior performance.
There are mainly three ways by which nanomaterials can be incorporated to improve performance of tyre: incorporation of nanomaterials in filaments to be used for the production of tyre cords, incorporation of nanomaterials in rubber compound, inter-layer nanocomposites coatings to improve performance of tyre.

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