Chemical simulation paves way for sustainable testing of composite materials

13 June 2023

Software company Molydyn is to use chemical simulation to test new composite materials, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Bitrez, in order to make the testing process more sustainable.

The project aims to use molecular modelling to develop a viscosity modelling capability for Molydyn's accessible web simulation platform, Atlas to help design better composite materials while reducing costs and environmental impact. Built upon previous collaborations with the AMRC, the project is funded by an Innovate UK Transformative Technologies grant.

Chemical simulation allows researchers to test new materials quickly with virtual experiments, screening out the prospects that are unfit for the lab. This saves laboratories time and money, while proving to be a more sustainable method - as no disposable gloves, single use plastics, or solvents are needed to test materials virtually.

With the rising price of electricity and raw materials, composite material manufacturers are feeling the pinch as high-pressure pumps and heating are often needed to infuse viscous, honey-like resin into the fibres. However, resin tested for an optimised viscosity would flow like water and reduce the cost, environmental impact, and difficulty of manufacturing composite parts.

Matthew Bone, chief executive officer at Molydyn, said: “It’s good to be back working with the AMRC again, and tackling a major problem like viscosity. We’re hoping to expand Atlas and can give materials scientists a tool to help them design better composite materials. Composites are shaking up many sectors with the environmental benefits of lightweighting, so we’re keen to help get better composites to market faster.”

The AMRC, part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult network of research centres, will conduct empirical lab testing from its innovation cluster in Rotherham. Using its knowledge of working with composite materials, the AMRC will characterise the same set of polymers Molydyn is simulating, to act as a validation data set for current, and future, simulation research. Creating a broad dataset of viscosity measurements will give Molydyn an extensive pool to simulate and explore.

Development engineer for composites at the AMRC, Alex Brahinets, says this project is expected to provide more detailed insight into material simulation by testing Atlas-designed formulations in the lab, and, in turn, using physical testing results to verify virtual simulation. 

Alex added: “From our experience, a material's processability can be a decisive factor in selecting suitable material for a customer's application. For thermoset resins the right viscosity is critical since it determines a material's processability via common methods like infusion or resin transfer moulding (RTM). That is why predicting viscosity is essential for designing a new generation of sustainable materials.”

Bitrez is contributing to the project with a range of polymer formulations for testing and simulating. This includes a number of its popular bio-based materials, helping Molydyn to showcase how simulation performs on the next-generation of sustainable polymers. Working with commercial formulations will help to prove how capable modern chemical simulation is for real world materials.

Paul H. Jones, managing director of Bitrez, said: “We are always looking for opportunities to contribute and support the scientific community in turn changing the face of industrial practice and rectifying anthropogenic damage. 

“We are pushing boundaries with disruptive bio-based polymers and assisting in this project to aid efficient conversion of our matrix systems and working with Molydyn and the AMRC is a pleasure and complements our Sustainable Development Goals.”

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