Advancing sustainable materials through physics-based modeling and AI

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The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has evolved its ICME (Integrated Computational Materials Engineering) toolkit, known as PropTuneto make soft and durable materials.

As the world strives to achieve carbon neutral goals and with increasingly limited resources, industries such as textiles, packaging and construction need to use sustainable materials and improve the performance of their products through innovative design.

To facilitate this, VTT is accelerating the development of flexible and durable materials by 50% using physics-based modeling and AI. They extended the application of ProperTune beyond hard materials like metals to make soft materials, like wood, polymers and plastics. This enables companies to significantly reduce product development time, cut costs, reduce their use of environmentally harmful materials, and design new materials with improved performance.

Antti Puisto, head of the research team at VTT, commented: “Virtual product development is underway now. This is no longer science fiction. The supply of materials becomes more and more expensive or difficult. The battery industry, for example, uses huge amounts of shredded metals that won’t be available indefinitely, and there is an urgent need for bio-based alternatives to lithium. As products are improved and new ones are created for different industries, we need to make every resource count. »

What is ProperTune?

ProperTune is a collection of tools fusing multi-scale physics-based modeling and AI with a data-driven approach to creating accurate microstructural materials and loading under real-world conditions. The technology performs extremely in-depth analysis of a customer’s product and models the impact of various environmental elements and stressors on it.

The fully digital environment allows researchers to discover more sustainable materials to replace unwanted ingredients and is a much more efficient process than the traditional trial and error method. Additionally, ProperTune can verify the durability of the new material and other key performance parameters.

Puisto explained, “By bringing product development and testing into the virtual world, we can build better products faster and more cost-effectively than ever before.”

Pioneers of sustainable materials

Bacteria are one of the most promising flexible and durable materials, as they are an infinite source of materials.

Puisto said: “The paper cups have a barrier coating to prevent liquid from immediately destroying the cup. Usually this barrier is made of petrochemical polymers – a plastic material. This could be replaced by durable alternative polymers produced by bacteria, eliminating a significant amount of unsustainable fossil-based barrier material. The end result would be infinitely circular paper cups.

The use of ProperTune in the construction industry is very promising. Wall insulation typically does not contain durable materials, but instead uses polymer materials made from petrochemicals (plastics) or mineral wool, both of which end up in landfills.

How do you create an alternative insulation material that doesn’t rot between walls – but also disappears without a trace or harming the environment after its life cycle is over? We would have to design a material that lasts 50 years but that is also biodegradable. These are the kind of inspiring challenges we want to take on,” said Puisto.

Future development plans

Leading companies, including Kone and Wärtsilä, have already used ProperTune to improve the hardware performance of their products. VTT is currently collaborating with companies that aim to take advantage of sustainable materials.

Puisto concluded: “We are already working on the first state-of-the-art projects with customers to discover and develop alternatives for their soft materials. Overall, companies that develop new and better materials, regardless of their industry, are the pioneers that create the world of tomorrow. »

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