During the Advanced Materials Show 2022, AZoM met with the CEO of Cambridge Smart Plastics, Andrew Terentjev. In this interview, we discuss the company’s new technologies and how they could revolutionize the way we think about plastics.
Can 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 both of my college parents for their lifelong interest in science and technology. It’s easy to get excited about technologies when you’re working with experts, and at Cambridge Smart Plastics we’ve managed to assemble a fairly multidisciplinary team, which allows for some exciting conversations and innovations – the best part of STEM.
Where does the inspiration for Cambridge Smart Plastics come from?
There is a huge and notorious gap between what is done in universities and in industry. My two co-founders are Cambridge scholars, and upon reviewing their expertise and materials catalog, the potential for applications was mind-boggling.
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 decided to part ways with the University, fund ourselves, and dedicate our lives to delivering something worthwhile.
CSP is reinventing polymer materials, having produced three new technologies so far. Can you describe them to us and how you were able to develop them?
One of our core technologies, and what we showcased at the Advanced Materials Show, is MesodampMT. It is a polymerized liquid crystal which is frankly incredible. It has all sorts of sci-fi applications like artificial muscles, self-sustaining dynamic materials that could recover wasted heat energy, reversible grip, reversible shape memory, and more. impressive credentials: pure and simple, it’s the best cushioning material in the world.
Thanks to the liquid crystalline phase and the interactions between liquid crystal molecules within an elastomer, we can convert 10 times more mechanical energy into heat than conventional rubbers, eliminating 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 working, but you won’t feel it working either – hopefully you won’t much at all if it dampens like it does in the lab). You will finally “hear yourself thinking”.
We are also specialists in biodegradable materials and bioplastics. We work packaging films and tapes with incredible barriers for the transmission of oxygen or water that eliminate the need for metallization (which is the bath of packaging recycling). We use nanocellulose to achieve an eco-friendly replacement for aluminum coatings.
We also offer extensive advisory services in the area of dynamic bond trading and polymers in general. Many industries rely on thermosetting polymers, and these are not recyclable. We help companies convert their thermosets into dynamic thermoset chemicals that will enable material reprocessing and recycling.
How do your X-Series polymers and Mesodamp elastomers differ from materials already on the market?
Mesodamp is a totally new elastomer on the market that uses liquid crystallinity to give the elastomer an additional damping mechanism. One of our difficulties is that it is so radically new that many customers do not know what to do with what it offers. Small intermolecular interactions allow for additional large internal friction and convert elastic energy flowing through the material into heat.
We further ensure that our materials are recyclable by relying on bond-exchanging crosslinkers rather than the permanent chemical crosslinkers common to other elastomers. As such, we have a better, greener polymer in Mesodamp ready to deliver improved product performance, survivability and consumer enjoyment.
X-Series is what we call our dynamically crosslinked polymer grades. We are not actively selling any yet, but are consulting on implementing an X version of the 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 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 them suspending a passenger or railcar, or separating high-value equipment like MRIs to increase stability. A foam Mesodamp tape will act as an acoustic damper inside a door panel or window frame. Aerospace will look to us built into wings and composites to dampen resonances and increase performance.
In our nanocellulose sector, expect to see your food packaged in transparent recyclable plastics soon replacing opaque and shiny metallic bags. Barrier tapes will also be used to insulate machines and computer servers from dust, humidity and oxygen, or to make storage containers lighter and thinner (forgoing the thickness of bulk plastic 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 to help build awareness of your brand in the materials industry?
AMS has been fantastic for us; I can’t overstate that. This is our first major conference, and we have been blown away by the scope and quality of people it attracts. I couldn’t count the number of interesting discussions we had. It’s only been a week since the show, but we’ve already had plenty of follow-ups with collaborators and big, blue-chip end users, all asking for samples and discussing their needs. Putting like-minded people out there to find a solution and learn from is the best way to find matches and a home for new technology. I guess I attribute that to an interesting and very timely subject matter of the show, and people coming in with the intention of talking to each other and getting to know each other. It also helps to have a fun demonstrator; I think people liked our non-bounce balls and reversible tapes quite a bit.
What are the company’s objectives and ambitions for the next ten years, in terms of research and development?
Our goal is to make plastics smarter, more sustainable and more valuable. No more single use, we build efficient and sustainable solutions, with recycling and reuse integrated as standard.
Our immediate goal is to refine the first pilot product for our Mesodamp elastomer. We have several collaborators but are always open to interesting new applications for vibration and acoustic damping. We see scaling and real-world testing of this over the next few years.
In parallel and with the implementation of this range of products, we can expand our laboratory team and self-finance our research activities. At present, we are at the mercy of corporate grants and subsidies, which limits our ability to pursue greater impact and more blue sky projects. For example, our Plastic 2.0 project seeks to find a sustainable solution to the challenge of recycling mixed plastics. This is something that has no immediate business application and requires quite a bit of retooling and relearning in plastic recycling. Delivering this is a dream of ours and if we don’t find sponsors it will be our own reinvestment in this technology that will enable this.
About Andrew Terentjev
My name is Andrew Terentjev; I am CEO and co-founder of Cambridge Smart Plastics. With our team of top Cambridge academics, we have grown the team to six now. We are a self-funded, 100% owned start-up and we celebrate our third anniversary in July. Please find more information about us on our website www.smart-plastics.co.uk or contact me at [email protected].
If you would like to learn more about CSP, we have been mentioned in a number of open access government publications that have followed our research, such as this recent article: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/the-road-to-changing-how-the-world-uses-plastics/134354/