Last year, the project received financial support from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation in the amount of 200 million rubles. Now the innovators have a big task – to create materials that can replace metal, and to introduce them into industrial production.
Perhaps someone will be surprised by the fact that high-quality polymers having a wide range of applications – from engineering to medicine – are being researched in Nalchik, not in the capital’s scientific institutes. However, there is nothing unusual here. Back in the 60s of the last century one of the strongest domestic schools of materials science – the polymer school of Professor Abdulakh Mikitaev – appeared in the republic.
– Perestroika has become a test for the entire national science, many institutions in the country were abandoned, and we, in general, are no exception. In the 1990s, Abdulakh Mikitaev was elected to the State Duma, he was a member of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation, and, of course, he had no time for research into the polymer chemistry of time, “says Svetlana Khashirova, head of the Progressive Polymers Laboratory at the Kabardino-Balkar State University. – The revival of the laboratory took place in 2008, when he decided to recreate the research center at the university and united around like-minded people – and this concentration of researchers in the field of polymer chemistry was not anywhere else in the country. We began to participate in various federal target programs of the Ministry of Education and Science and worked with the Foundation for Advanced Studies. Each year, our base was equipped with modern research equipment, and last year the laboratory developed into the Center for Advanced Materials and Technologies.
Within the walls of this institution there are about 40 scientists (average age 35), all of them graduates of Kabardino-Balkarian State University. They create not only polymers and composites, but also completely new methods of processing – 3D printing. Now additive technologies are developing at a rapid pace: it’s not uncommon to use desktop printers at home. But, it turns out, “building” materials for new devices are not that in Russia, in the world – very little.
The materials available on the market are more suitable for printing simple, standard products, and only two plastic grades based on superconstructive polymers have been created for those withstanding high loads.
– The fact is that the technology of production of superconstructive polymers is rather complicated and the few firms in England and Germany that produce multifunctional raw materials on an industrial scale do not sell production licenses. They want to be monopolists in the market, – Svetlana Khashirova continues. – In addition, not every superconstructing polymer is suitable for 3D printing. We develop our own recipes: they are simpler, more accessible, and at the same time they allow us to receive better quality materials.
The technology created has a number of important characteristics, including low operationality, a reduction in the number of stages of production, and a high percentage of yield of a suitable material. Together they make it possible to significantly reduce the cost of their output: in some cases (in comparison with foreign counterparts) by 40 percent.
Another important nuance – Nalchik samples can be used both for the manufacture of parts by casting, and using three-dimensional printing. Therefore, the scope of their application becomes truly unlimited. The materials are very strong, resistant to radiation and thermal effects – some withstand temperatures of up to 450 degrees. They also retain their properties at low temperatures (up to minus 100 degrees) and are indispensable, for example, in the construction of special equipment for work in the Arctic. Structures made of polymers are lighter than metal by 50 percent and, unlike the latter, do not rust and are dielectrics.
– Any reduction in the weight of cars is now very much appreciated. Just imagine, reducing the weight of the aircraft by even one percent can save 0.75 percent of the volume of fuel. Also, polymers are used in medicine, since they have bio-compatibility. You can make implants – replaceable “details” for the spine and jawbone, heart valve. At the same time, they are not rejected by the body and serve for decades, says the scientist.
If you combine all the known polymers in a pyramid, then the progressive ones will be at the very top. Scientists of the laboratory have mastered them all. And they learned how to create composite materials based on polymers – with additives to improve individual properties. For example, do consumers need more fireproof materials? You are welcome. Need to increase the electrical conductivity or ductility? No problem.
It would seem that with this quality of the product, investors and customers should not be shut down. But even with all the obvious benefits of the new technology, you have to break your own path. The machine-building enterprises of Moscow, Rybinsk, Korolev, Kirov, Ulyanovsk and Kazan turn to the laboratory. We cooperate with them in the framework of small projects, but the mass introduction of samples into the production of speech has not yet come.