Team of researchers from the University of Coimbra wins the NextLap Accelerator 2022 challenge

Uma equipa de investigadores dos departamentos de Engenharia Química (DEQ) e Civil Engineering (DEC) from the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) was the winner of the most promising idea in this year’s NextLap Accelerator Bootcamp, a challenge promoted by Beta-i, Valorpneu and Genan.

In this competition, which aims to use rubber from used tires for valuable components, the team of Luísa Durães, professor at DEQ, Pedro Fernandes, a student at DEQ, and Paulo Santos, professor at DEC, competed with the Tyre4Buildins project, in which an airgel was produced with a homogeneous matrix of silica and rubber from used tires, creating a new ecological and more economical super insulating material.

As a result of the award, the team is already working with Decathlon Produção Portugal, a company that has shown interest in the work carried out by the researchers, especially in the method of dissolving rubber for reuse. «We were surprised by the victory. This challenge has several companies participating, so it serves as an incubator of ideas for companies», Luísa Durães begins by explaining.

«Decathlon Produção Portugal showed interest in the project and has been monitoring the acceleration phase of the idea. However, they did not choose airgel, but the possibility of using “liquid” rubber. The purpose would be to introduce rubber in this form at some stage of the production of sports equipment and others that are sold by the multinational », she clarifies.

Since the team started working with the brand, the process has been more personalized, that is, it involves looking at Decathlon Produção Portugal products and realizing what might be interesting, and continuing to experiment in the laboratory in order to test a set of ideas that are on the table.

«Pedro Fernandes, a DEQ student, continues to experiment and, at this moment, we believe we have a very interesting solution for covering fabrics, in the sense of making them waterproof, using that same “liquid” rubber», reveals the FCTUC teacher, adding that «being able to dissolve the rubber was an aspect that drew a lot of attention in the challenge, but it is necessary to understand how it will be used».

According to Luísa Durães, the use of airgel to insulate some specific sports equipment is not out of the question. However, «within liquefied rubber there is, in fact, a huge set of opportunities that open up, namely in terms of rubber reprocessing, which is even beyond the challenge itself», she says. In addition to coating fabrics, this solution can be used, for example, in products that have a film to increase friction or are spongy, and also in footwear.

«It was a very important victory, and I was very satisfied with the result of the project, but also now with this new solution because the opportunities ended up multiplying, which I thank the Nextlap promoters», adds Luísa Durães. «Although the “liquid” rubber solution has nothing to do with Civil Engineering, it is a great satisfaction for this new aspect to emerge, with this new set of applications», concludes Paulo Santos, professor at DEC and coordinator of the project that brought together the two FCTUC departments.

NextLap is a program that creates links between partners, specialist companies in the sector committed to the Circular Economy, and teams of innovators in the area, with the aim of finding solutions based on rubber, textiles, or other materials for end-of-life tires.

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