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07 July 2021

The materials revolution

The so-called fourth industrial revolution is reaching as far as materials are concerned. Technology and the need to reduce environmental impact are generating a new generation of ultra-resistant, smart and sustainable materials. Enough is to say that 8 out of 10 innovations have a functional material behind it, be it new or with new properties or with improved performance. These new materials have two basic characteristics: they reduce negative impacts on the environment and contribute to reducing dependence on extraction and import processes, with all the environmental advantages that this entails.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and nanotechnology are two of the technologies behind the new materials industry. Parametric and generative design, for example, enables the rapid development of the most innovative products, which through algorithms obtain incredible results that leave behind geometric shapes giving way to an intelligent geometry that reminds us of nature itself. It can be applied in other sectors ranging from car industry to fashion.

Let us see two examples of this new era of materials. The materials science department of the Polytechnic University of Madrid has managed to create fibers that take spider silk as a reference. The silk fibers manufactured by spiders have mechanical properties that have not been surpassed by any artificial fiber, as they combine high resistance (a spider silk cable the thickness of a pencil could stop a Boeing 747 in flight), similar to that of steel, with a great deformation, comparable to that of rubber.

Grupo Antolín, for its part, is the first European company to produce carbon nanofibers on an industrial scale at competitive prices. These are carbon nanofibers with a diameter of between 50 and 100 nanometers and a surface suitable for the matrix into which they will be incorporated. Carbon nanofibers have applications in many industrial sectors, although they currently stand out in the automotive and wind energy sectors. The use of nanocomposites that are lighter and stronger than steel helps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, because it makes it possible to manufacture lighter cars and, consequently, consume less fuel. In the energy sector, the blades of wind turbines loaded with carbon nanofibers will provide conductivity to the composite material, allowing a greater durability of these by preventing them from freezing due to low temperatures and fracturing.

The materials revolution
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