At the Advanced Materials Show 2022, AZoM caught up with the CEO of Cambridge Smart Plastics, Andrew Terentjev. In this interview, we discuss the company's novel technologies and how they could revolutionize how we think about plastics.
Please could you introduce yourself and your background in STEM?
My name is Andrew Terentjev, and I am a former banker turned tech co-founder. I guess I should thank my two academic parents for a lifelong interest in science and technology. It is easy to get excited about technologies when you work with experts, and at Cambridge Smart Plastics we have managed to gather quite a multi-disciplinary team, which makes for exciting conversations and innovation – the best part of STEM.
Where did the inspiration for Cambridge Smart Plastics come from?
There is a massive and notorious gap between what is done at universities and industry. My two co-founders are Cambridge academics, and on a review of their know-how and catalog of materials, the potential for applications was mind-blowing.
We all wanted something tangible and world-changing, especially in today’s climate where environmental pressures and the need for change are so pressing. We set about separating from the University, funding ourselves, and dedicating our lives to delivering something worthwhile.
CSP reimagines polymer materials, having produced three novel technologies so far. Could you describe what these are and how you were able to develop them?
One of our core technologies, and what we introduced at the Advanced Materials Show, is MesodampTM. This is a polymerized liquid crystal that is frankly incredible. It has all sorts of science fiction applications like artificial muscles, dynamic self-driving materials that could recover wasted heat energy, reversible adhesion, reversible shape memory, etc. However, we are most excited and laser-focused on delivering on its most immediate and impressive credential: plain and simple, it is the best damping material in the world.
Thanks to the liquid crystalline phase and the interactions between the liquid crystal molecules within an elastomer, we can convert 10x more mechanical energy into heat than classical rubbers, thus killing off unwanted sound or vibration and improving safety. We hope it will soon be found in automotive, rail, and aerospace applications (under the hood, so you won’t see it at work, but you also won’t feel it working – hopefully, you won’t feel much at all if it dampens like it does in the lab). You will finally ‘hear yourself think'.
We are also specialists in biodegradable materials and bioplastics. We work packaging films and tapes with incredible barriers for oxygen or water transmission that remove the need for metallization (which is the bain of packaging recycling). We utilize nanocellulose to achieve an environmentally friendly replacement for aluminum coatings.
We additionally offer wide-reaching consulting services in the field of dynamic bond exchange and polymers in general. Many industries rely on thermoset polymers, and these are not recyclable. We assist businesses with converting their thermosets to dynamic thermoset chemistries that will allow for the reprocessing and recycling of materials.
How do your X-Series Polymers and Mesodamp elastomers differ from materials already on the market?
Mesodamp is a totally new-to-market elastomer that utilizes liquid crystallinity to give the elastomer an additional mechanism for damping. One of our difficulties is that it is so radically novel that many customers are initially confused about what to do with what it offers. Small intermolecular interactions enable large additional internal friction and convert elastic energy passing through the material into heat.
We additionally ensure our materials are recyclable by relying on bond exchanging crosslinkers rather than the permanent chemical crosslinkers that are common to other elastomers. As such, we have a better, greener polymer in Mesodamp, ready to offer improved product performance, survivability, and enjoyment for consumers.
The X-Series is how we refer to our dynamically crosslinked polymer grades. We do not actively sell any yet but consult on implementing an X version of existing plastic grades. We have proven demonstrators for simple TPO plastics like PP and PE, and of course, we use X-Series technology in Mesodamp itself to make it re-processable.
What industries and applications do you hope to break into with your products?
We expect the first products to be small widgets like o-rings, washers, and vibration isolation systems like bushings. You should imagine these suspending a passenger or rail car, or separating high-value equipment like MRIs to increase stability. A foamed Mesodamp tape will act as an acoustic damper in the inside of a door panel or window frame. Aerospace will look to us embedded into wings and composites to dampen resonances and increase performance.
In our nanocellulose track, expect to see your food packaged in clear recyclable plastics soon replacing opaque and shiny metallized bags. Barrier tapes will also be used to seal machines and IT servers from dust, moisture, and oxygen, or make storage containers lighter and thinner (forgoing bulk plastic thickness for a few microns of our transparent nanocellulose coating). You won’t even know our materials are there at work, but they will be working for a better product, environment, and experience.
How important are trade shows like Advanced Materials in helping to spread awareness of your brand across the materials industry?
The AMS was fantastic for us; I cannot overstate that. It is our first big conference, and we were blown away by the breadth and quality of people it attracts. I could not count the number of interesting discussions we had. It has only been a week after the show, but we already have many follow-ups with collaborators, and big blue-chip end-users, all asking for samples and discussing their needs. Putting like-minded people there to find a solution and learn is the best way to find matches and a home for novel technologies. I guess I put this down to an interesting and super-timely topic of the show, and people coming with the intention to talk and get to know one another. It helps to have a fun demonstrator too; I think people rather enjoyed our non-bouncing balls and reversibly sticky tapes.
What are the goals and ambitions of the company over the next ten years, in terms of research and development?
Our goal is to make plastics smarter, more sustainable, and of high value. No more single-use, we build efficient and durable solutions, with recycling and reuse inbuilt as standard.
Our immediate goal is to narrow down the first pilot product for our Mesodamp elastomer. We have several collaborators but are always open to new and interesting applications for vibration and acoustic damping. We see the scale-up and real-world testing of this over the next few years.
In parallel and with the establishment of this product line we can expand our lab team and self-fund research activities. At present we are at the mercy of grant funding and corporate hand-outs, which limits our ability to pursue bigger impact and more blue-sky projects. For instance, our Plastic 2.0 project seeks to find a lasting solution to the challenge of mixed plastic recycling. This is something without an immediate corporate application and does require quite a substantial retooling and relearning in plastic recycling. Delivery of that is a dream of ours and if we do not find sponsors, it would be our own reinvestment into that technology that will enable this.
About Andrew Terentjev
My name is Andrew Terentjev; I am the CEO and co-founder of Cambridge Smart Plastics. Together with our team of top Cambridge academics, we have been growing the team to six now. We are a self-funded, wholly owned start-up and have our third birthday this July. Please find more information about us on our website www.smart-plastics.co.uk or reach out to me at [email protected].
If you’d like to read more about CSP, we have been mentioned in a number of open access government publications that tracked our research like this recent piece: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/the-road-to-changing-how-the-world-uses-plastics/134354/
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