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04 | 2010

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Report Materia Nova

Report Materia Nova Material R&D Centre Article contributed by Vincent Berthé Research Scientist MateriaNova Materials R&D center Ghislenghien, Belgium Bringing to market a new generation of polymers and composites requires developments that meet corporate specifications. Specialised in the field of polymer extrusion and reactive interface modifications, Materia Nova Material R&D Centre plays the bridging role between fundamental research and industrial development. Established by the University of Mons, Belgium, Materia Nova has operated as an autonomous non-profit organisation since 2001. The centre employs 80 multidisciplinary, highly qualified researchers, most of them with a PhD, as well as engineers and technicians specialised in polymer engineering, organic chemistry, surface treatments, biomaterials and white biotechnology. Backed by this staff, and well-equipped research and development laboratories, Materia Nova offers technological guidance and consulting, for example in the fields of materials sourcing, process trouble shooting as well as support for scale-up and industrial development. To offer such services, Materia Nova‘s competences are in the fields of bio-based plastics, biodegradable materials, compatibilised polymer blends and (nano)composites, backed-up by active collaboration with academic institutes. Materia Nova maintains active collaboration with both Belgian and French competitiveness clusters. In addition, we support collaborative research partners and help is provided through the grant application process. Bio-based polymers “Recycled agricultural waste and non-crop bio-fermented polyesters need to break into the food-versus-fuel debate”, said Dr. Luc Langer, CEO of Materia Nova. “In order to provide sustainable and competitive plastics and composites, new raw materials from non-food sources are already being studied to compete with existing advanced plastic materials. However, control of their blend and reinforcement with traditional plastics also have to be addressed”. In this respect Materia Nova focuses on activities to supplant part of commodity plastics and chemicals, including green technologies, such as solvent-free synthesis, reactive extrusion and biomass conversion organisms to produce non-food based monomers, additives and fillers The development work significantly participates in the success that polylactide P(L)LA is currently enjoying by emerging as one of the leading bioplastic materials. Indeed Materia Nova provides R&D support for the launch of the first P(L)LA production demo unit in Europe, owned by Futerro (a 50/50 joint venture between Total Petrochemicals and Galactic, see bM 03/2010). Other fields of activity are succinic acid, for example to investigate polymer blends based on modified poly-butylene-succinate (PBS). Materia Nova is also very active in converting agricultural waste (such as starch) into processable plastic materials thanks to chemical modifications, blending and plasticization. We develop new composite materials based on polyesters (obtained from sugar beet or maize starch) and thermally treated gypsum or organo-clay with excellent mechanical and fire resistance properties. Composites based on functionalised or sized vegetal fibres are also achievable. The corresponding applications range from rigid packaging to equipment shells using, for example, reinforced woven PLA fibres. 30 bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/10] Vol. 5

Report Biodegradable materials Creating innovative compostable and home-compostable polymers is another part of Materia Nova‘s portfolio. Some of the promising fundamental research projects aim at tuning biobased polymer durability and biodegradability while controlling their mechanical properties and useful lifetime. Nanocomposites Materia Nova developed considerable expertise in the preparation of nanocomposites based on innovative fillers (e.g. layered clay and needle-like clay, carbon nanotubes, expanded graphites, cellulose nanofibrils and nanowhiskers, polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxanes or POSS, metal oxides, etc.). Different dispersion methods of these nanoparticles were elaborated both in thermoplastic and elastomeric matrices, as well as in thermosets. Depending on the chemical nature and the structure of the dispersed nanoparticles and relative content, a large set of properties displayed by the resulting nanocomposite can be monitored: • control rigidity / ductility ratio • improvement of fire resistance while maintaining transparency • control of viscosity and rheology • increase in electrical conductivity • control of fluid permeability Scaling up Materia Nova also provides scaling-up and compounding services dedicated to start-ups, SME’s and large chemical companies that wish to test new synthesis paths, innovative blends or composites before launching production of those new products. “Via our plastic production unit located in Ghislenghien, Belgium, we are able to help industry to develop viable commercial products,” said Dr. Langer. Batch reactors, from 5 mL to 20 L and reactive extrusion technologies from lab scale (100 g/h) to pilot scale (300 kg/h) are available Conclusion In addition to performing confidential R&D contractual projects, Materia Nova uses its skills to collaborate with universities and EU public organizations, fulfilling their mission by accelerating the emergence of advanced materials technology while targeting industrial applications. Scale-up services to meet specific industrial requirements are also provided. “It is an exciting time to be involved in the advanced polymer and compounding industry,“ said Dr. Langer. The number of requests that we are receiving for speciality materials keeps increasing every year. Effective innovations are being developed to meet industry‘s needs while processes are being adapted to new raw materials such as bio-based ones. Materia Nova‘s vision: “Nature for future innovative and sustainable solutions made by today’s people” Pictures: Materia Nova / Client: Ex-Nihilo / © Denis Lécuyer-PixPix & Colegram / © Materia Nova www.materianova.be bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/10] Vol. 5 31

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