Mississauga, Ontario – Cars in future could contain plastics made from shrimp and crab shells. A University of Toronto student has won a national automotive competition with his work on the new biodegradable material, which could replace petroleum-based plastics used in automobile components.

Aaron Guan, a master of science student, won the AUTO21 TestDRIVE competition, receiving a $10,000 scholarship for his work on recyclable and lightweight polymeric nanocomposites.

Shrimp and crab shell fibres, called chitin nanowhiskers, form the base of this new material, which will allow auto components to meet strict environmental standards without compromising vehicle safety. The material has a much higher strength-to-weight ratio than conventional plastics used in most automotive components, and provides higher mechanical strength without aesthetic flaws or deformation at lower densities.

The mechanical properties of the plastic could be easily engineered to suit various strength, stiffness and weight requirements, simply by varying the combination of chitin nanowhisker and polymer content. The seafood-based product is completely renewable and sustainable, as chitin nanowhiskers are derived from fishing industry waste.

A $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Anthony Lombardi of Ryerson University for his research on reducing distortion in aluminum engine blocks, while Tara Kajaks of McMaster University received a $2,500 scholarship for her research on improved ergonomic simulation and modelling in manufacturing plants.

AUTO21 supports research projects and is supported by the federal government through a Networks of Centres of Excellence program, with its administrative centre hosted by the University of Windsor in Ontario.

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