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University of Toronto student clinches top spot in a national automotive R&D competition

Develops biodegradable material made from shellfish for use in auto components

Aaron Guan's biodegradable material made from shellfish fibres that can be used to make car parts has earned him top prize in a national automotive research competition.

A University of Toronto student has won a national automotive competition for his work on developing a new biodegradable material made from shrimp and crab shells that can replace petroleum-based plastics used in auto components.

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

Shrimp and crab shell fibres, called chitin nanowhiskers, form the base of this new material, which would allow automotive components to meet strict environmental standards without compromising vehicle safety. This material has a much higher strength-to-weight ratio compared to conventional plastics used in most automotive components and provides higher mechanical strength without aesthetic flaws or deformation at lower densities.
Due to the composite nature of the material, mechanical properties can easily be engineered to suit various strength, stiffness and weight requirements simply by varying the combination of chitin nanowhisker and polymer content. The material is also completely renewable and sustainable, as chitin nanowhiskers are derived from the waste of the fishing industry.

The AUTO21 TestDRIVE competition showcased leading-edge technologies and automotive knowledge developed in part by Canadian university graduate students. As Canada's automotive research program, AUTO21 provides funding to 38 applied research and development (R&D) projects at 46 universities across the country. More than 400 students contribute to these projects, along with nearly 200 academic researchers. Since its establishment in 2001, AUTO21 has supported more than 1600 graduate student researchers with federal and private-sector funding.

“The development of Highly Qualified People or HQP is integral to the success of any high technology industry and the future prosperity of Canada,” said Dr. Peter Frise, scientific director and CEO of AUTO21. “AUTO21 HQP each contribute to an industry-led research project working on key issues in Canada's automotive sector. TestDRIVE provides another opportunity for our top students to engage with the automotive R&D community and link their academic studies to real-world scenarios."

TestDRIVE was held in conjunction with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters' (CME) 2012 Small Manufacturing Summit, Driving Business Growth in Uncertain Times, in Mississauga, Ontario.

"The TestDRIVE competition is a great way to showcase the tremendous innovation capacity of today's young people and the endless possibilities available to the next generation of manufacturing leaders," said Ian Howcroft, vice-president, CME Ontario.