2019 02 21

Advanced Materials for the Lithuanian and International Markets

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Lightweight concrete with scrap polystyrene foam that has great insulation as well as mechanical properties and fire-resistant materials. Biologically active compounds and new materials synthesised for a range of different fields – from pharmacy to agrochemistry – and revolutionary new organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).  Science helps business move forward, and in many cases advanced materials are the engine of innovation.

Hemp Panels, Green Concrete

Dr. Rimvydas Stonys, director of the Institute of Building Materials at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU), emphasises the great variety of research services available. Scientists are focused on working in areas that can benefit or improve Lithuanian industry and ultimately increase their international reach. These areas include next-generation materials, green technology, material manufacturing methods and application technology.

Autoclaved aerated concrete, a fire-resistant concrete-graphene oxide mix and lightweight concrete manufactured using green technology are just a few of the innovations introduced by the VGTU Institute of Building Materials. The VGTU team has developed an entire range of new materials that contain the ashes of biofuel, medical and municipal waste and other appropriately processed waste. For example, green concrete is made of a mix of ash, old tire cords and reinforced concrete waste.

Thermoinsular panels and meshes are manufactured using a mix of wool and other renewable natural resources without the use of fossil fuels. They can be used for insulating both internal and external walls. Another innovative product is the hemp fiber panel. Researchers have also developed building blocks filled with hemp hurds that meet all modern insulation and structural requirements.

The field of ceramics is also well-developed – not just the material itself, but methods of manufacturing ceramics as well. For example, cold-resistant ceramics or ceramic products with fine dispersive aggregates. Several composite aggregates have also been created for various products. One of these is a composite quartz-based aggregate that enables the formation of various protective barriers against alkaline compounds.

“This has become an especially relevant product because there has been an increase in the construction of cogeneration plants and municipal waste-burning infrastructure. The materials that are currently used are not long-lasting, which is why scientists all over the world are trying to solve this issue and prolong their service life,” explains the director of the VGTU Institute of Building Materials.

Growing OLED Potential

Under the leadership of Professor Juozas Vidas Gražulevičius, the researchers of the Polymer Chemistry and Technology Department at the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Faculty of Chemical Technology are focused on materials used in organic electronics or, to be more precise, optoelectronics and that can be applied to organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). OLED technology is also the focus of many important European and national projects.

As Dr. Audrius Bučinskas explains, OLEDs are integrated into a substantial share of current electronic products: from next-generation television screens to smartphones with OLED screens. The organic materials working in the screen matrices emit a visible light and contribute the display of visual information. It is believed that in the coming five years, a new generation of interior and exterior light fixtures that use effective OLED technology will enter the market with increasing confidence. One of the largest global investors in this technology is LG Electronics, which even plans to build a factory in the next couple of years.

The KTU research group also collaborates with foreign companies that work in one way or another with OLED technology, i.e., the synthesis of organic materials and their use in organic light-emitting diodes. For example, this group has already successfully completed several EU projects with Novaled, Samsung’s subsidiary in Europe. The object of one project was to create a prototype for a blue light-emitting panel. Speaking of lighting, it should be noted that blue light is a very important component of white light.

“We synthesise a vast amount of organic material and make it work in various devices. We are exploring what is more effective, more stable, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. We are growing our potential,” explains Dr. Bučinskas, “OLEDs are constantly being improved, cutting out weaknesses and developing strengths. Compared to non-organic types of LEDs, OLED technology has many advantages: colour range, brightness, flexibility, lightness, thinness and energy consumption. But it wouldn’t be right not to mention one of its main weaknesses – the life span of blue light-emitting diodes. And we aren’t the only ones working on this problem – the whole world is trying to find a solution for it”.

More, Faster, Cheaper

UAB Synhet, a startup founded by the researcher Liudas Šlepikas of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) synthesises new biologically active material. The synthesis process is quite complex and slow. The purification of the compounds also takes a long time.

“The mission of our company is to produce as many compounds as possible, as cheap as possible and as fast as possible,” emphasises Šlepikas, “By using the latest technology we can optimise reaction conditions in a short period of time, identify impurities in the compounds and, based on the results we get, increase our output and reduce impurity.”

Synhet’s clients are companies from all over Europe, America, Canada, Australia and even China as well as South Korea. They place orders for the synthesis of a specific kind of biologically active compound. Among these clients are the pharmaceutical company Novartis and the agricultural chemistry and biotechnology giant Monsanto.

“At the same time, we are trying to produce as many compounds as possible in a shorter period of time. Then making these compounds would be cheaper and we could offer the world millions of new organic compounds. If we attract investment for new technologies, we could step up to a new level,” assures the head of Synhet.

Patented Technology

The Hydrogen Energy Technology Centre of the Lithuanian Institute of Energy (LEI) is working on several projects related to the synthesis of advanced materials. They have acquired a European patent for their innovative hydrogen protection technology – metal hydride synthesis.The team has submitted an application for another European patent for their gamma aluminium oxide synthesis technology based on the reaction between plasma-activated aluminium and water.

“We try to develop innovative materials that could work for hydrogen safety and protect as much as possible, percentage-wise,” explains Dr. Marius Urbonavičius, a researcher at the LEI Hydrogen Energy Technology Centre, “The process of metal and metal alloy hydridation we have developed differs from what other researchers are applying to make metal absorb hydrogen. Usually, they use catalysts – platinum or palladium – these are very expensive metals. We use nanoclusters of nickel particles”.

Hydrogen can be used to produce electric energy. In the search for cleaner alternatives, this field has great potential. This is why hydrogen protection systems are constantly being developed.

“However, in any case, protecting hydrogen, whether it be with a pressure or cryogenic system or a metal hydride, is very expensive. We came up with an idea – what if hydrogen could be supplied on demand, extracted when necessary through a reaction of aluminium powder and water. In order to make the aluminium powder react with the water, we modified their surfaces by applying a low-temperature plasma technology,” explains the researcher.

This process results in a by-product – aluminium hydroxide. LEI researchers decided to turn it into gamma aluminium oxide. It is non-toxic and has a very large specific surface. This means the substance can be used as a catalyst carrier. It could also work for purifying exhaust gas and water or in the refining of extracted oil.

“We synthesised a very clean substance and we can control this process of synthesis,” emphasises Dr. Urbonavičius, “The main advantages of this is that the process is relatively simple and not very expensive compared to chemical methods”.

Curated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), OPEN R&D Lithuania unites the country’s universities, research institutes, science and technology parks and open access centres, helping Lithuanian researchers developing advanced technologies meet entrepreneurs from Lithuania and beyond and encouraging their cooperation. The Open R&D Lithuania Contact Centre was founded by MITA and helps companies find the shortest route to a suitable partner from a research institution, gather information about where they can order the services they need and set up individual meetings. An emailed enquiry is enough to solicit an answer as to where a business should refer to next.

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