Spending money on plastic

The EPSRC has awarded Queen’s University Belfast two grants totalling £2.5m for research into polymer nanocomposites to reduce raw materials usage and improve polymer performance.

The grants will enable the Polymer Cluster in The School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s and their partners to further their work on nanocomposites, in which nanoscale particles are dispersed in the polymer.

Nanocomposites offer a dramatic improvement in material performance, with significant increases in mechanical and gas barrier properties. Improved performance also allows products to be manufactured with less material leading to reductions in raw material, processing energy and product transportation costs.

The study will focus on the processing route by which the nanoparticle-polymer mixture is formed into a final product and applying this knowledge to the development of proof of concept applications for industry and academia. Professor Eileen Harkin-Jones and her colleagues will also be using computer modelling to predict the behaviour of materials under conditions that might otherwise be to difficult or costly to replicate.

‘These substantial grants from the EPSRC will enable us to achieve a fundamental understanding of the influence of processing on the properties of the final product, and thus how to design and process nanocomposites more effectively,’ said Harkin-Jones. ‘This in turn will offer us the possibility to significantly reduce the amount of polymer needed for a particular application and therefore help reduce the environmental burden due to plastics waste.’