How the Spanish industry adopts new materials to face new challenges

Section of grooved contact wireIn recent years Spanish industry is experiencing a silent revolution, a veritable industrial transition: it is being transformed from a highly traditional model to a new model based on the optimization of productivity and the new economy of knowledge, with maximum respect for the environment and for our planet, preserving resources and better managing energy expenditure. Materials play a huge role in this revolution.

Exposed with particular intensity to foreign competition, Spanish industry is responding by deploying an extraordinary capacity to generate innovation and by successfully competing in foreign markets.

“The new industrial economy is increasingly based on the intensive use of creativity and talent applied in a novel manner to fields as diverse as biotechnology, pharmacy and agri-foods, energy, construction, transportation and textiles”

In this task of building new competitive bases for Spanish industry, materials technology is occupying a strategic position. Through new materials it is possible to clearly perceive the nature of new industrial production. In the new industry, research and development of new processes and of new products occupy a truly strategic position. The new industrial economy is increasingly based on the intensive use of creativity and talent applied in a novel manner to fields as diverse as biotechnology, pharmacy and agri-foods, energy, construction, transportation and textiles. In each economic sector it is possible to identify conspicuous innovation projects that the proper application of new materials has turned into a reality. We are presenting some of them in order to highlight the faculty that materials have to generate new products and determine new uses. They are projects that resort to the latest advances in materials science to prepare society for the challenges of the future.

In the biotechnology, pharmacy and agri-foods sector

Spherification Textures – Culinary technique that gelifies food

  • Spherification – a new culinary technique permits obtaining food spheres in different sizes and textures with a magical flavour.
  • There are two types of spherification: basic and inverse.
  • Inverse Spherification may use a product called Xantana, which is capable of thickening without distorting the flavour characteristics of the food.
Spherification of peas.

Spherification of peas.

Spherification is a new culinary technique that permits obtaining edible spheres. These spheres have a slightly flexible structure that makes it possible to create a mixture of flavours by inserting other solid food into them. Through spherification one can obtain raviolis, recreate olives, achieve spherical fruit caviar and produce other spherical preparations with an extremely subtle membrane that is magical in flavour. There are two types of spherification, a basic and an inverse: Basic spherification consists of inserting a liquid food with Algin (brown alga extract) in Calcic (calcium salt traditionally used in cheese making). In the case of inverse spherification, a food with Gluco (formed from two calcium salts) is submerged in an Algin bath.

The Spherification Kit contains all of these ingredients, plus other components such as Citras, a product obtained from citrus fruit that reduces acidity in foods, and a pack with the utensils required to make the spheres.
Info: elBulli workshop – Albert and Ferran Adrià |Solé Graells S.A.

Obtaining a new biocompatible material, useful in repairing human tissue.

  • The Community Centre for Blood and Tissue of Asturias and the Ciemat produce skin in the laboratory for the treatment of burns and of people with skin diseases.
  • They use of structural proteins from blood in the regeneration of other tissues
  • Research is also being carried out on how to lab-produce bone, cartilage and other tissue that is useful in human medicine.
  • This invention being described here will in future facilitate the regeneration of organs and tissue.
Microscopic view

Microscopic view of the tridimensional structure made for albumen to allow the developement of leaving cells.

After the success obtained in the production of large amounts of artificial skin from a small sample of a burns victim, the institutions that participated in the project are now studying the possibilities of a new material for repairing other tissues such as cartilage, bone or adipose tissue.
This new biocompatible material comes from the reaction between the globular proteins of plasma (principally albumen) and a cross-linking agent (principally glutaraldehyde). After lyophilisation, the mixture is a porous and elastic structure that is easily manipulated. The three-dimensional structures developed through this methodology facilitate the development of strategies for repairing organs and tissue. The principal novelty this represents in regard to other previously described biomaterials is that it is made from albumen, a material that is extraordinarily easy to obtain and that can even be taken from the patient through venipuncture (just like when we have blood taken for a test). This easy handling facilitates the use in small labs of therapies based on tissue engineering and notably reduces costs.
Info: Centro Comunitario de Sangre y Tejidos | Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (Ciemat) | MBA Incorporado S.A.

In the energy sector

Energy-generating buoy in the high seas

Energy-generating buoy in the high seas.

Wave energy farm – Cleaner and inexhaustible energy
Harnessing the energy of ocean waves constitutes an innovative activity in which Iberdrola Renovables wanted to actively participate by developing the pilot facility of Santoña.
This project is expected to generate sufficient electricity to supply more than 2,500 homes, entailing a reduction of 3,000 tonnes of CO2 per year in emissions. The project consists of ten buoys submerged at a depth of 50 metres, at a distance of between 2 and 3 kilometres from the coast. The buoys have total power of 1.5 MW and rise and fall to the rolling of the waves. According to its promoters, the principal advantages of the buoys’ operating system are their safety given that they are submerged, their greater durability and minimal impact, both environmental and visual.

These are devices that slide inside a float through the action of the waves. The relative movement by means of a hydraulic system activates a conventional generator that generates low-voltage electrical energy. This electricity is sent to a marine substation that adapts the voltage to that of the grid and is transferred to it via a submarine cable. At this time, the great advantages of wave energy lie in their vast energy potential and in the diversification of energy sources.
Info: Iberdrola Energías Marinas de Cantabria, S. A. | Iberdrola Renovables, S. A. Iberdrola is a world leader in this sector and has over 50,000 projected Mw of renewable origin.

Catalyst for the production of hydrogen – Efficient state-of-the-art technology for fuel cells

  • Hydrogen is not a primary source of energy, as it cannot be directly taken from our environment but has to be produced from other materials (water, alcohol, etc).
  • It can furthermore be an ideal vehicle for energy, just like electricity but complementary to it.
  • This device resolves both the problem of production and of transportation and storage of H2, as what is being carried is bioethanol, which is transformed into water and pure H2 in situ, ready to feed a fuel cell.
  • Hydrogen production is very quick owing to the high porosity of the aerogel (around 600m2/g).

The Materials Science Institute Barcelona, of the CSIC, and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia have developed a catalytic device for the production of hydrogen from bioalcohol that consists of a ceramic monolith coated in aerogel. The device, built through nanoscience techniques, operates at a high flow and is highly stable in practical operations.

Catalytic device

Catalytic device – Ceramic support coated with aerogel.

The catalytic device can be simply heated up to reaction temperature (320-340 ºC) in an air atmosphere; in these conditions, bioalcohol is put in to generate hydrogen. This technology has a high potential for in-situ generation of hydrogen for mobile uses and for direct application in fuel cells, something that would permit a direct conversion of chemical to electrical energy with high performance output. The vapour temperature of bioalcohol needed to produce hydrogen in this case is far lower (~310 ºC) than that of other catalytic devices. The production of hydrogen is very quick owing to the high porosity of the aerogel. In under two minutes, ethanol can be converted into a hydrogen-rich mixture, with more than 60% of H2 and without the need for any prior treatment of the catalyst. This catalytic device can be heated up to reaction temperature in an air atmosphere. This device offers a reduction in costs and environmental improvements, lower application temperature, low production times and does not require prior treatments. This system is efficient, compact, economical and permits mobile use. Its implementation in transportation vehicles is an option that would allow us to singularly unite sustainability, efficiency, range and absence of pollution.
Info: Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona (ICMAB) – Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) | Institut de Tècniques Energètiques. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC).

In the construction sector

Nanobain steel – A 21-st century material

  • First nanotechnology material by mass. Nano no longer needs to be small.
  • Nanotechnology resulting from the process of improving mechanical properties.
  • Transformation processes at temperatures ten times lower than habitual ones in other types of steel with similar applications.

Nanobain represents a new generation of high-strength steels (1.7–2.2 GPa), remarkable ductility (5–30%) and exceptionally high tenacity (45 MPam½), making it scientifically and technologically very interesting.

Nanobain test tubes

Nanobain test tubes – 4mm diameter.

The excellent properties of this material are mainly down to the formation of plaques of bainitic ferrite with a thickness comparable to that of highly sophisticated materials such as carbon nanotubes (20–40 nm).
This new material is based on a microstructure called bainite obtained through a thermal treatment at low transformation temperatures (150–350 ºC) without the need for using deformation, ultra-rapid cooling or mechanical processing. Never before had bainite been formed at such temperatures, where the diffusion of iron is inconceivable during transformation processes. At such low temperatures, the kinetics of steel formation is extremely slow. To form bainite at 200ºC, for example, a treatment of approximately two weeks is required. However, the concept of thermal treatment at temperatures entailing low or even no energy cost is very interesting.
Info: Materalia Group of the CENIM-CSIC in collaboration with Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Bionictile® byCeracasaDecontaminating bio-mimetic ceramic
Bionictile® byCeracasa is an eco-design proposal committed to sustainable architecture. It is a range of ceramic products that decontaminate the air from the harmful NOx produced by cars and industry.


Descontaminating façade with bio-mimetic tiles.

By means of an apparently smooth, painstaking design, the result of observing the structure of tree leaves, (biomimicry) Ceracasa has created a material with interstices that increase the specific surface in contact with contaminated air. A TiO2 and performance-enhancing enamel on the ceramic and the sun’s UV rays trigger a photocatalysis process in the NOx (highly contaminating agents) that are broken up on the ceramic surface into totally innocuous nitrites and nitrates. One of the major novelties provided by Bionictile® is the continuous effect it has, as the nitrites and nitrates are washed off the surface by rainwater or high humidity and the ceramic piece regains its cleaning effect, doing so in a permanent cycle.

  • 200 BIONICTILE buildings (30 m x 40 m x 4 faces = 4,800 m2 x 200 buildings = 960,000m2 ) break up 357.79 Tn of NOx per year.
  • To calculate the effects of greenhouse gases (GHG), the NOx has an equivalence of 310 times the CO2. 357.79 Tn equal 110,915 Tn of CO2 per year.
  • A tree reduces 6nKg of CO2 per year. 200 BIONICTILE buildings are the equivalent of a forest of around 18.5 million trees (110,915 Tn of CO2 equivalent ÷ 6 Kg CO2 per tree per year = 18,485,833 trees).

Info: Ceracasa |FmcForet|Universidad Politécnica Valencia ITQ.

In the transportation sector

CuPMA grooved contact wire – Contact wire for high-speed rail lines
The grooved contact wire for high-speed railway lines made from polymicro alloy, CuPMA, has been developed to offer top performance with excellent wear resistance and high conductivity.

Section of grooved contact wire

Section of grooved contact wire for electrical conduction.

It is capable of assimilating more frequent passing of machinery and of withstanding the large thermoelectric charges generated when trains are started up and it It provides properties that allow trains to pass more frequently. This material has been obtained by means of a less complex industrial manufacturing process than that currently required for CuAg and CuMg. In obtaining this polymicro alloy copper material, a maximum of mechanical properties was sought without electrical conductivity being affected so as to reduce energy loss and increase its service temperature. La Farga Lacambra SAU produces the copper wire by a process of fusion, micro alloy, solidification and lamination in continuous casting. This wire has been installed in a double-line section for conventional trains, critical because it is subject to high wear and tear owing to the large number of start-ups and high traffic it has to withstand.

  • A study has been conducted of the wire’s performance in service, in collaboration with ADIF through the Foundation for Fostering Industrial Innovation.
  • The process for obtaining grooved contact wire is patented.

Info: La Farga Lacambra S.A.U.

Injection process for magnesium alloys.

  • The injection of magnesium alloys permits reducing the number of components and  phases in the manufacturing process.
  • The alloy’s properties make it possible to produce finer and more complex parts.
  • Weight reduction is one of the major objectives of this project; this leads to a reduction in fuel expenditure and consequently in emissions that pollute the environment.
Seating structures in magnesium alloys

Seating structures in magnesium alloys.

The manufacture of components in magnesium through a high-pressure die casting process, HPDC (High-Pressure Die Casting), offers greater injection fluidity than aluminium.
Magnesium is the lightest structural metal in existence: its weight is equivalent to two thirds the weight of aluminum and a fourth of steel. It constitutes around 2% (the 7th most abundant) of the earth’s crust and is the third most abundant element dissolved in seawater, and is thus considered to be virtually inexhaustible. AM60B magnesium alloy has good ductility, dimensional stability and strength. It also acts as a heat dissipater. This material and the HPDC high-pressure casting process allow it to easily integrate different functions (engines and wiring, for example). This process extends the use of magnesium to primary structural components such as seating structures, and complies with the safety protocols demanded for this type of alloy. It allows cast parts to be manufactured in a variety of shapes and significantly reduces the number of phases in the process. Some of the advantages of using this material are its lightness, its capacity to absorb vibrations and reduce noise, its ease of recycling, the reduction in the number of components of the parts and the simplification of the manufacturing and assembly process.
Info: Grupo Antolín Ingeniería.

In the textile sector

Paper fabrics for fashion garments that protect against cosmic radiation.

Detail of paper fabric

Detail of paper fabric.

Cellulose-based filaments offer considerable protection from alpha, beta and gamma radiation and infrared radiation. Garments made from this type of fabric have a rustic and natural appearance, a lower static charge and prevent soiling. Owing to the characteristics of the raw material, it is a biodegradable, easily recycled material. In addition, the fabric is a good thermal and acoustic insulating material. This material is 100% biodegradable and easy to recycle. The cellulose used in this project comes from sustainable plantations.The characteristic feature of this project is given by the uniqueness of the research: natural materials, fibres that intrinsically protect us from ionising radiation. In the manufacture of paper fabrics, they must be given a treatment to provide them with flexibility and elasticity so that they fall properly and are pleasant to the touch. They are given a bactericidal and fungicidal treatment to make them more long-lasting.
Info: CTF Centre d’Innovació Tecnològica. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) | Mimcord.

Microcapsules with heat-regulating materials on a textile base – Micro-encapsulation of polymers

  • Heat-regulating fabrics allow us to maintain a more or less constant temperature.
  • They can be applied in garments to protect us from the cold.
  • PCMs are available on the market in the shape of natural and synthetic polymer capsules whose size depends on the encapsulation technique employed.
Heat-regulating textile materials possess microcapsules that contain PCM, change phase materials, with very high fusion temperatures that allow them to absorb or eliminate large amounts of heat during the phase change from solid to liquid state and vice versa.
Microscopic view of fibre with PCMThese materials go through a series of phases until the phase change occurs: absorption, storage and liberation. The microcapsules obtained have a diameter of 10 to 60 micrometres and the temperature range in which the change of state occurs is situated between 14 and 40ºC. A new micro-encapsulation technique for polymers has been developed to obtain microcapsules containing PCM, phase change materials, for regulating temperature. The microcapsules are integrated into different conventional fabrics by means of a foularding technique. This leads to obtaining heat-regulating garments that contribute to the user’s thermal comfort without having to renounce their aesthetic appearance.
Info: Asintec (Centro Tecnológico de Confección) | Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha.

Valérie BergeronAbout Valérie Bergeron
Valérie is in charge of the materials library Mater in Barcelona. She lectures on architecture, museography and innovative materials for different professional and educational programs.
> More about Valérie Bergeron

Hello Materials exhibitionAbout the Hello Materials exhibition
Experience fascinating examples of present and future materials and gain an insight into what they will mean to society and the individual. Visit the exhibition between the 2nd of April and the 21st of September 2012.
> Visit for more information about the Hello Materials exhibition

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