Sonichem Launches Project To Transform The Automotive Industry With Bio-based Plastics

A consortium led by sustainable technology innovator Sonichem has been granted nearly £600,000 in funding from Innovate UK’s ‘Resource efficiency for materials and manufacturing’ (REforMM) programme. The funding will accelerate the development of the proprietary Sonichem ultrasound technology and the production of renewable, cost-effective alternatives to petrochemicals commonly used in the production of plastics, resins, and composites within the automotive industry.

The cutting-edge CARMA (carbon-neutral agroforestry-derived resins to materials for automotive applications) project will apply Sonichem’s ultrasonic processing technique to automotive applications for the first time. The patented breakthrough approach converts sawdust, the biomass by-product from forestry operations, into high-quality lignin. This renewable material will then serve as the basis for bio-based platform chemicals, creating green alternatives to conventional petrochemical-derived materials currently used to produce various vehicle components.

This transformative initiative is being undertaken in collaboration with technology innovation catalyst CPI, the National Composites Centre (NCC), Scott Bader, SHD Composites and Polestar, with each industry leader contributing its own specialised knowledge and expertise. In particular, CPI will support scale-up of the Sonichem technology; Scott Bader will pioneer the development of high-performance, sustainable composite resin formulations; and the NCC, SHD Composites and Polestar will together explore the potential of these novel materials for automotive interiors applications.

The CARMA project aligns with the UK Government’s focus on resource-efficient, sustainable industrial materials as it aims to significantly reduce the UK’s reliance on imported composite materials, which currently amounts to approximately £250-260 million per year. The newly awarded funding from Innovate UK will enable the international consortium to establish a robust and renewable lignin supply chain within the UK and accelerate the formulation of sustainable plastics and resins that contribute to steering the automotive industry toward a net-zero future and enhancing the UK’s bioeconomy.

Adrian Black, CEO of Sonichem, said: “We’re extremely pleased to have the backing of Innovate UK’s REforMM programme for this strong industrial consortium. This funding is a catalyst in our quest to offer the automotive industry a sustainable alternative to petrochemical-derived plastics. With Sonichem’s ultrasound technology and the collaborative expertise of our partners, we are set to make strides toward a net-zero future and strengthen the UK’s bioeconomy.”

David Fishpool, Verification Manager at the NCC, said: “Creating a sustainable future is at the core of our mission. The National Composites Centre is proud to be part of this transformative initiative to accelerate the development of sustainable, cost-effective alternatives to petrochemicals in the production of plastics, resins, and composites for the automotive industry. Our role in this project underscores our commitment to driving innovation and sustainability in the materials sector. We eagerly anticipate contributing our expertise to this vital effort today, for a greener tomorrow.”

Steven Brown, Group Sustainable Technology Manager at Scott Bader, commented: “Scott Bader is pleased to be part of this exciting project, and we look forward to working with our highly regarded industrial and technology partners to accelerate the valorisation of abundant and sustainable biomass towards high-performance materials.”

Nick Smith, Technical Director at SHD Composites, said: “SHD Composite Materials Ltd. is very excited to be working with Sonichem on the next generation of sustainable resins wholly sourced from UK feedstocks as part of our ongoing commitment to reduce the ecological impact of our products. These materials have the potential to be a game changer in the high-value composites market.”