Top 10 Materials Industry Trends and Innovations in 2021
For example, biodegradable plastics, thermally adaptive fabric, or flexible displays. Novel formulations, including nanomaterials and biomaterials, impart new functionalities to existing materials while expanding the scope of innovation. Additive manufacturing, advanced composites, and 2D materials also lead to the development of various lightweight materials. Along with materials informatics and management, surface engineering impacts several industries from energy, automotive, and construction, to biotechnology, healthcare, and textiles.
1. Sustainable Materials
The immense volume of waste generated during the use and production of materials forces governments to draft various environmental regulations. Practically all industries face challenges while rearranging their internal processes from the perspective of materials’ lifecycle. Companies in the construction, automotive, packaging, and manufacturing sectors are integrating sustainable materials and involving renewable energy sources into their processes. Eventually, these efforts aim to lessen the burden of waste on the planet. Sustainable materials also provide a boost for circular systems and allow for the implementation of a circular economy.
Spectalite – Biocompound Materials
Indian startup Spectalite intends to assist the automotive, logistics, packaging, hospitality, and consumer goods industries with their sustainability objectives. Spectalite produces biodegradable and recyclable compounds based on agricultural waste and renewable resources. The startup’s products contribute to conserving natural deposits and forests while also ensuring scalability and adaptability for existing manufacturing processes.
eCO2Blocks – Sustainable Construction Materials
Portuguese startup eCO2Blocks applies the principles of a circular economy to fabricating sustainable construction materials. Their main product, carbon-negative pavement blocks, does not contain any cement by implementing a cost-effective manufacturing process. The startup utilizes industrial waste, non-potable water, and carbon dioxide absorption technology, without diverting natural resources.
2. Responsive & Smart Materials
In order to comply with the requirements of certain industrial use cases, novel materials currently in development possess application-specific characteristics. Advancements in materials science allow for creating smart materials with programmable properties so that they behave or respond to stimuli from external factors. Emerging companies work to design materials and products with diverse qualities, from thermo-, electro-, and photo-chromism to piezoelectricity, shape memory, self-healing, and phase-change attributes, among other characteristics.
Memetis – High-Performace Actuators
German startup Memetis creates ultra-compact miniature actuators on the basis of shape memory alloys. The startup enables a memory effect in its materials, which are capable of sustaining extreme deformations, and later reverts to their original shape. This property supports the performance of the actuators even in small or dense installation spaces. Memetis offers solutions for consumer electronics, telecommunications, optical technology, mobility, and industry 4.0.
Sorex Sensors – Film Bulk Acoustic Resonator (FBAR) Technology
Sorex Sensors is a British startup developing high-sensitivity micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) sensors on silicon wafers using a thin-film piezoelectric material. The startup utilizes FBAR technology to create a piezoelectric effect, enabling it to accurately detect temperature and mass changes on a femtogram scale. This allows small-scale devices with low-power requirements to respond to external stimuli. Some use cases of this solution include thin-film metrology, as well as gas and particulate monitoring.
Advancements in nanotechnology show that the characteristics of materials at a nanoscale differ from those of their bulk equivalents. The proliferation of nanofibers, nanotubes, allotropes, quantum dots (QD), and other nanostructures enable an almost infinite source of value-addition, in the form of strengthened performance of industrial products, retained at an atomic level. By leveraging the power of nanoparticles, modern companies secure their competitive edge, specifically in electronics, energy, mobility, and manufacturing sectors.
Nanolumi – Perovskite Nanocrystals
Singapore-based startup Nanolumi intends to overcome the weaknesses of QD technology for electronic displays with its reliable and safe perovskite nanocrystals. The startup combines the advantages of cadmium-free origin, broad light spectrum coverage, purer color performance, and high-volume mass-production suitability. Nanolumi’s product also intends to supplant conventional perovskite nanocrystals and QDs for premium electronics.
BNNano – Enhanced Boron Nitride Nanotubes
The US-based startup BNNano manufactures boron nitride nanotubes with superhydrophobic, high electrical insulation and high thermal & mechanical stability characteristics. The company offers powders, master alloys, masterbatches, and custom mixes to enhance the performance of aerospace, automotive, defense, and textile applications, as well as for radiation protection and thermal management.
4. Additive Manufacturing
Emerging additive manufacturing facilities strive to evolve beyond traditional thermoplastics and apply materials that offer greater flexibility, customization, and functionality while producing lesser waste. The progress of 3D printing technologies, in turn, spurs the upgrades in metals, alloys, ceramics, fibers, and their compounds. It also encourages the appearance of completely new and durable polymer filaments with improved conductance, melting, ultraviolet (UV), and chemical resistance, among other properties.
MAT3D – Composite Polymeric Materials
Italian startup MAT3D is working to develop new polymeric materials for additive manufacturing that offer strengthened functional attributes. The company aims to replace high-performance plastics for metal 3D printing, as well as a variety of resins with increased electrical, magnetic, anti-bacterial, and thermo-mechanical properties for industrial markets.
Chromatic 3D Materials – 3D Printed Polyurethanes
The US-based startup Chromatic 3D Materials produces a set of durable high-performance polyurethane elastomers for 3D printing, which are simultaneously adaptable and resilient. The startup offers a great degree of customization and compatibility with additives while also ensuring the quality of the final products. Chromatic 3D Materials’ products cater to the automotive, manufacturing, and consumer goods markets, among others.
Various industries, from aerospace to mobility, search for innovative ways to diminish excess weight and consequently provide superior fuel efficiency and handling. This drives research into materials like aluminum, magnesium, and titanium, as well as high-strength plastics and carbon fiber. These materials offer industries the option to reduce their environmental and operational burdens arising from their heavier parts. This materials industry trend also provides the safety and reliability levels, on par with heftier equivalents.
TxV Aero – Aerospace Composites Manufacturing
The US-based startup TxV Aero designs and engineers custom laminate materials and finished composite parts for applications in commercial aerospace, including electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. Using advanced technology, the company fabricates lightweight thermoplastic assemblies with tailored features, including ply orientation, pad-ups, near-net-shape, and more. Further, TxV Aero works on retrofit aerospace applications for increasing overall productivity.
Fibratech – Composite Automotive Wheels
Polish startup Fibratech intends to overcome lightweighting and performance limitations of aluminum in the mobility sector. It develops hybrid composite-metallic wheels for vehicles, augmented with carbon fiber. Fibratech’s material attains general mass reduction, stiffness increase, and design customization, compared to widely used forged aluminum wheels.
Looking for specific materials startups and technologies?
Big companies today employ a data-driven approach to materials, enhanced by principles of informatics, computational techniques, as well as ML and AI. This allows them to arrange and model materials data in a meticulous manner. Moreover, in addition to optimizing the ability to reliably derive scientific insights from complex materials data, informatics also accelerates the timelines for research and development (R&D), saving resources on previously time-consuming and labor-intensive practices.
Kebotix – Self-Driving Material Discovery Lab
The US-based startup Kebotix develops a self-driving laboratory solution for materials research so as to accelerate the exploration of new materials exploration. The startup leverages big data management, AI-based decision-making, dedicated robotics, and a convenient interface to streamline cycles for scientists. The company is particularly interested in tackling challenges in sustainability, public health, and hazardous industrial substances.
Matelligence – AI-Based Materials Screening
Canadian startup Matelligence plans to provide material science experts with data-driven tools for materials discovery. Their solution comprises computational techniques with patented artificial intelligence algorithms so as to lower the number of required scientific experiments and expedite screening procedures. Matellligence’s platform primarily targets clean energy, electronics, manufacturing, among other sectors.
The rapid increase in the number of industrial applications also results in the development of a variety of composite or hybrid materials. In pursuit of improving performance and regulatory compliance, reducing cost, and incorporating customer preferences, emerging companies intend to innovate within resins, fibers, substrates, matrices, and finishes to build custom composites. These solutions provide advanced and user-specific applications, primarily for the infrastructure, energy, industry 4.0, and mobility markets.
AMP Industrial – Continuous-Fiber Composites For Propellers
The US-based startup AMP Industrial fabricates advanced composites for unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The startup possesses technical expertise in engineering unidirectional continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastics (CFR-TP). The benefits of AMP Industrial’s composites lie in its high strength-to-weight ratio and material toughness, as well as its capability to customize materials design for high-performance applications.
ARCEON – High-Temperature Resistant Composites (HTRC)
Dutch startup ARCEON creates innovative high-temperature resistant composites (HTRC) for satellites, rockets, and engine parts. Their products withstand temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees Celsius, retain a low coefficient of thermal expansion, contain lightweight materials, and also reinforce mechanical robustness and durability.
8. Graphene & 2D Materials
Breakthroughs in nanotechnology allow materials science companies to configure pathways for 2D, or single-layer, materials. Possessing inherent thermal conductivity and mechanical strength, 2D materials endow industrial applications with enhanced capabilities. However, a majority of 2D materials, such as germanene, silicene, stanene, and phosphorene, are still under development, excluding graphene. As the first 2D material successfully commercialized, graphene improves tensile strength, intra-sheet strength, surface durability, electron mobility, flexibility, and thermal resistance in a multitude of commercial markets. These sectors span electronic displays, supercapacitors, automotive, construction paints, and plastic manufacturing.
Ionic Industries – Graphene Materials
Australian startup Ionic Industries aspires to bridge the gap between graphene research and developing its commercial applications. The company incorporates expertise and patented processes of graphene and graphene oxide manufacturing. Ionic Industries specializes in graphene additives for water treatment and nanofiltration, as well as for energy storage.
Carbon Waters – Liquid Graphene Applications
French startup Carbon Waters focuses on liquid graphene applications for a diverse range of markets. The startup’s graphene dispersions provide barrier-coatings, lubrication, and anti-corrosion properties for industrial surfaces and mechanisms. In addition, the solution improves thermal management for electronics and semiconductors, as well as electrical conductivity for manufacturing and consumer devices.
9. Surface Engineering
Exposed to continuous wear & tear, corrosion, UV rays, and other harmful factors, industrial surfaces require coatings that demonstrate improved durability. This is essential for protecting automotive, industrial, agricultural, marine, and manufacturing assets, as well as for increasing productivity. Besides, engineering innovations offer the possibility to grant surfaces the properties of hydrophobicity and omniphobicity, self-cleaning, and smoothing. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, surface engineers work to undertake efforts to master antimicrobials for more reliable protection in both industrial and non-industrial sites.
SolCold – Anti-Stokes Fluorescence Technology
Israeli startup SolCold develops a surface modification innovation, based on a nano filter and an active cooling paint. Using anti-stokes fluorescence technology, SolCold strives to transform heat and radiation from the sun into a low-cost cooling system. The startup’s technology creates a reverse relationship between solar activity and heat transfer. This solution caters to the transportation, construction, agriculture, and textile industries.
OPUS Materials – Bespoke Materials Technology
British startup OPUS Materials engineers innovative anti-soiling and self-cleaning coatings for the aerospace, telecom, construction, mobility, marine, and renewable energy sectors. The company aims at improving fuel consumption and airflow, diminishing corrosion, and optimizing materials efficiency. Additionally, OPUS allows for creating coating materials by design, and also supports the establishment of corresponding supply chains.
10. Materials Management 4.0
Industry 4.0 is changing the face of manufacturing value chains, inducing the implementation of its practices in material management, handling, and processing. Spanning autonomous mining and advanced automated fabrication to robotic manipulations and cloud computing, the materials sector is being rapidly digitized and interconnected. As a result, the development of new materials comes in parallel with their industrial adaptation through the fourth-generation of industrial technologies.