Moving structures are more ecological when made from lightweight materials, because they reduce the energy consumption and therefore the carbon footprint generated by moving the part. This is why composites, predominantly light plastic materials reinforced with stiff and strong fibres made from glass or carbon, were developed in the early days of spaceflight and modern aviation and have since found applications in almost any market related to structures – from boats, cars and other vehicles over wind power, buildings and construction to sports and leisure equipment. However, the bottleneck in the manufacturing of such components has remained the same since the beginning: combining the strong fibres with the light plastic. Traditional approaches rely on pushing the plastic in liquid form in between the fibres. This step, called impregnation or infusion, is either performed in a mould during the fabrication of a component itself or even earlier in the value chain, while producing a semi-finished material to later be used as feedstock. As a result, the industry has developed complex value chains based on either expensive intermediate processes or excessively time- and energy-intensive manufacturing methods. A great example are wind turbine blades: these 70-plus meter long behemoths occupy moulds for 24 hours or more and cost up to half a million dollars to produce – and remember that each turbine carries three of those blades! Even worse, such large structures can only economically be produced using hazardous reactive resins, which cannot be re-processed once cured. This means that after 15-25 years of use, these wind blades cannot be recycled and either end up in long-term storage or in landfills. Having deployed almost 600 kilotons of composites in 2018 for just wind power alone means we need to find more sustainable and efficient materials, and processing solutions for this industry. With the technology we have developed through project Antefil, we completely circumvent the bottleneck in today’s value chains: by coating every individual reinforcing fibre with a meltable plastic while they are produced, we generate hybrid fibre yarns which already contain all materials needed to form a full composite part – already on the microscale and entirely without ever having to go through a slow impregnation process. This highly scalable and cost-effective fibre production yields materials which can be handled like any textile known to the industry and which require only heat and minimal pressure to be converted, practically instantly, into lightweight structures. And on top of the cost- and time-savings this novel technology provides, the meltable plastics used are non-reactive and thus not harmful to workers and can be re-processed, enabling the use of welding technologies to join parts together and paving the way for a circular materials economy. Antefil’s microengineered hybrid fibres carry the potential to make composites greener and more affordable, transforming the way we produce lightweight structures.
At the start of the project, give a brief outlook on the planned project steps up to the first interim/final report. Describe briefly and succinctly the interim goals achieved or the final results. What gap does the project close, what implementation activities are underway? Has the project resulted in an (interim) product and/or a spin-off/start-up? Which partnerships with industry, service providers, the public sector are being strived or have been concluded? In what form will the project be continued? What financial leverage has been achieved (follow-up funding)?
Through Antefil, we want to transform the production of lightweight fibre-reinforced composite structures to more cost- and energy-efficient value chains based on the use of microengineered hybrid fibres. The technology behind the fabrication and use of such fibres has been developed by our team at ETH Zurich and is protected through a patent filed by ETH Transfer. We have acquired interest from various market segments (predominantly in the automotive and wind power industries) and devised a go-to-market strategy which enables us to scale the fibre production from our current prototype line to mass production by staged entry of different-sized verticals. The planned InnoBooster project will support Antefil in realizing its own pilot fibre production line, which will output enough material to supply smaller applications and to supply the production of test structures in pilot projects. By the end of the project period, the founding team will have incorporated Antefil and signed first sales contracts and thereby established its first revenues.
Persons involved in the project
Last update to this project presentation 16.11.2021