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Enhancing bioplastic injection moulding with ultrasonic power

The plastics industry is changing

Although bioplastics controlled less than a 2% share of the plastics industry in 2019, they are expected to grow at a 30% CAGR, accounting for 40% by 2030, making bioplastics a $324 billion-dollar enterprise in just over a decade. The main challenge currently faced within the manufacturing of bioplastic parts is the obtention of biodegradable components that have properties similar to conventional counterparts. The priorities within injection moulding (IM) processes pertain to managing heat resistance and thermal degradation caused by temperature, residence time or shear. Bioplastics also need longer cooling times. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to moisture barriers, rigidity/flexibility and durability. Other material limitations pertain to use within the conventional IM equipment with multi-cavity moulds.

Bioplastic challenges – and our solution

To address the challenges in bioplastic production, our research focuses on pioneering an ultrasonic-assisted injection moulding technique. This innovative approach applies low-frequency ultrasonic vibrations to bioplastic materials during the injection moulding process. The core idea is to reduce heat exposure and to enhance the flow and bonding of bioplastic materials without compromising their biodegradability or physical properties.

The incorporation of ultrasonic energy into the moulding process significantly improves the material's viscosity, allowing for smoother flow into mould cavities. This not only ensures better filling and replication of mould features but also reduces the incidence of defects and weak spots in the final product. By improving the molecular interlinking within the bioplastic, we can enhance the mechanical strength and durability of the produced parts. Furthermore, this method contributes to a reduction in processing temperatures and pressures, leading to lower energy consumption and an overall reduction in the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process.

A pivotal aspect of our solution is the ability of ultrasound to also heat the plastic, which is particularly beneficial for reducing the exposure time of large quantities of material to heat. This capability ensures that even bulk processing can be conducted more efficiently, significantly shortening the production cycle for bioplastic products. By optimising the heating process, we minimise thermal degradation of the bioplastic, preserving its quality and performance characteristics.

Scalable and environmentally friendly

Our research promises to revolutionise the bioplastic manufacturing industry by providing a scalable and environmentally friendly solution to the current limitations. By enabling the production of higher quality, more reliable bioplastic products, we can significantly expand their application range. This advancement not only supports the adoption of bioplastics in more demanding industries, such as automotive and consumer electronics but also aligns with global sustainability goals by promoting the use of renewable materials and reducing dependency on fossil fuels.

The potential impact of our research is far-reaching, offering a tangible solution to the pressing environmental challenges posed by conventional plastic production and waste. Through this project, we aim to pave the way for a new era in sustainable manufacturing, demonstrating that economic and environmental objectives can be achieved in harmony.

This will introduce a step-change in the injection moulding industry by increasing the quality and improving strength properties (increase tensile modulus by 4% and tensile strength by 6%) of biopolymers parts (PLA, PET, PBAT, PCL) while dramatically decreasing production costs (26% reduction in energy consumption) and time (cycle times reduced by 20%). In doing so, it will enable injection moulded bioplastics to reach mass adoption and service providers to realise tremendous cost savings (over 28% manufacturing and scrap cost reduction, approx. £2bn cost savings).

The research benefits industries seeking sustainable manufacturing options, including automotive, packaging, and consumer goods. By enabling the use of bioplastics in more demanding applications, we contribute to reducing reliance on fossil-based plastics and enhancing environmental sustainability.

Brunel Innovation Centre (BIC) will investigate the application of PU for heating and refining of bioplastics obtained by injection moulding process.

Over the years, BIC has built an in-depth understanding of PU technology for other applications. Current knowledge on this aspect will provide a good foundation for the research to be conducted in this project. Experiments will be run in parallel to the manufacturing processes, during the fluid and semi fluid phase of the material.

Application of different ranges of frequency, power and duration of exposure will help investigate the applicability of PU for heating and homogenisation. The parametric study will enable selection of parameters that are most effective.

The project will also investigate the development of Power Electronics (PE), transducer development, mountings and wave guide design. Therefore, the findings of this project will have great impact to the scientific community of high temperature materials processing and manufacturing, PU, acoustic cavitation and transducer development.

Consortium partners

  • Coda Octopus Martech Limited
  • Impact Laboratories Limited
  • McLaren Plastics Limited
  • Brunel University London – Brunel Innovation Centre

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Evelyne El Masri
Dr Evelyne El Masri - Head of Brunel Innovation Centre Lead on all Technical and Business Development activities of the Centre

Related Research Group(s)

woman engineer

Brunel Innovation Centre - A world-class research and technology centre that sits between the knowledge base and industry.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 23/02/2024