According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM , polyethylene (PE) is perfectly suited for sustainable lightweight construction because it is recyclable and lightweight. Until now, however, the plastic had not been strong enough – unless fillers were used, which had a negative impact on cost and energy. Professor Rolf Mülhaupt and his team at the University of Freiburg have now found a solution to this challenge by using catalysts to simultaneously produce mixtures of low, medium, and ultra-high molecular weight PE. Mülhaupt explains that with this trick, PE blends are produced that can be injection-molded without any problems. Parts for car interiors and rail guides are cited as possible applications. In a follow-up project, the material was then processed using a 3D printer. The scientists found out that the fiber structures also form in the nozzle of a 3D printer. As a result, many new applications are conceivable, such as lightweight gear wheels in car construction and robot grippers which adapt to the shape of a part.
Research is also being carried out on lightweight components, especially for the automotive industry, elsewhere too. For example, a new lightweight construction institute has been set up at the University of Paderborn for €18 million. On a total area of 3,300 square meters, the aim is to intensify cooperation between mechanical engineering and the natural sciences.