Plastics 2.0

With research projects such as furniture made from recycled clothes and the reinforcement of plastics, Mikael Skrifvars’s research team is well on their way towards reaching one of their goals: to upgrade the status of plastics to something valuable!

Mikaeal Skrifvars has been interested in polymers ever since the years he spent working in a chemical factory. At present, he is a Professor of Polymer Technology, and has for several years led a research team at the University of Borås, where seven researchers work to find solutions to various problems and challenges. It’s not only plastics that the research focuses on, but also what one can do by combining, in a laboratory setting, various materials which have different properties – plastics, yarns and textiles, for example. In that way, an entirely new material with new properties is created; a composite material.

– One can use composite materials instead of metal in many products, as they have such a low weight, excellent mechanical properties and good strength, Mikael Skrifvars says.

Composite materials are of interest to many industries. They allow for a fast production process with few steps, making it possible to produce complex products in a cost-effective way. This, in combination with their low weight, good strength and the possibility to tailor their properties, makes these materials highly desirable in, for example, the aviation and automotive industries, which are always on the lookout for opportunities to reduce weight and thus fuel consumption. The research team in Borås works, among other things, on developing composite components for cars in order to make them both lighter and more environmentally sustainable.

One of the projects that the group has successfully worked with under the umbrella of Smart Textiles is reinforcement materials made of textiles. By using heat and pressure, hybrid yarn is converted into a composite material, which is then usable as textile reinforcement in plastics. The result is a much lighter product, but with the same strength as composite fibreglass. Mikael’s team’s research falls under the ‘Resource Recovery’ research area. Through the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable composite materials, they explore recycling solutions. There are connections to both textiles and fashion through investigations into how bio-based materials can be utilised and recycled for use in entirely new products. Mikael Skrifvars predicts that in the future, both the degree of recycling of various polymers and their value will increase simultaneously.

– Recycling in the future will mean that we take care of materials in order to make sure that we increase their sustainability and lengthen their life-span as compared to today, Mikael Skrifvars says. It may involve, for example, making fibres from textile waste and recycled plastics.

Converting the enormous amounts of textiles which are today discarded from the large industrial laundries of Sweden into new products is one of the challenges that the research team is working on. By adding plastics and compressing the textile with large amounts of pressure, a biocomposite material is produced; this can be used in entirely new application areas, such as furniture and building materials.