A spin-off – Inelco – has been founded at the University of Warsaw; it specialises in the production of innovative protective coatings from metal alloys.
One of its solutions is technology that makes it possible to eliminate harmful chrome from the production process.
The company is also working on alloys and composites that will eventually be used, among other things, in fuel cells.
The company created by UW brings together decades of scientific experiments in the field of searching for and producing protective coatings that are safe for the environment and relatively inexpensive to manufacture. Electrochemical methods are used to produce such coatings. The company’s portfolio includes materials, products and technologies developed over the last 30 years. The scientists have new materials and alloys with decorative and anti-corrosion properties that are suitable for manufacturing structural elements. They also have their own proprietary technology that enables harmful chrome to be replaced. At the same time, Inelco is running advanced research on alloys that can potentially be used in fuel cells.
Innovation and ecology
The scientists who founded Inelco want to introduce into industry alternative materials compared with those that are widely used, so that they’re less harmful to the environment, cheaper, and the method used to obtain them isn’t detrimental to the natural environment. An example of this is a material that replaces precious metals in fuel cells being designed. Another example is the possibility of achieving the effect of a chrome-plated surface without using chrome.
“One of the materials we have developed has enormous potential to be used in fuel cells. Although it doesn’t provide the same efficiency of hydrogen evolution as in the case of cells using precious metals, it is many times cheaper and more environmentally friendly to manufacture. Precious metal resources are limited, while tungsten compounds are widely available and inexpensive. We want to introduce into industry innovative and environmentally friendly solutions, and that’s why we’re focusing on breakthrough technologies that allow us to greatly exceed the current indicators and parameters that define production processes. We’d all like to own a car whose only emission is water. However, we’d also like for there to be no need to use expensive materials to produce the propulsion of such a vehicle,” said one of the scientist founders of Inelco.
Currently, all the methods developed by the University’s scientists are relatively inexpensive, effective and eco-friendly, which results in a huge potential for implementation on a large scale in various industry sectors. The company doesn’t use toxic reagents or generate toxic waste, and the technology developed reduces the number of stages of production, which means fewer activities related to washing and cleaning manufacturing equipment.
A profitable alternative to harmful chrome
Chrome is used in many industries, but has been deemed by the European Union as a dangerous substance. Even small amounts of some of its compounds may be harmful to human health, and employees of electroplating plants are at particular risk. The EU has found that although chrome is harmful, it’s difficult to replace. Manufacturers may still use it, but they need to obtain a special permit, or it must be made outside of the EU. A solution to this problem has been created at the University of Warsaw. “We have materials that are similar to chrome, are just as hard, have a similar colour, can give gloss like a mirror, and their manufacturing is much more eco-friendly – not only because no harmful reagents or chrome are used, but also because less water and electricity is required for manufacturing,” said one of the scientists.
Another technology available from Inelco involves nickel. It’s estimated that up to 20% of the population is allergic to it. The new alloy was created by combining nickel with copper and tungsten, and items made from it don’t cause an allergic reaction.
Inelco’s founders highlight that the possibility of creating new materials are practically limitless, and materials that are similar to each other can have very different properties. Sometimes, their composition or manufacturing method differ slightly, but the properties differ massively. For example, one of two materials with an identical composition may have magnetic properties because it was obtained under slightly different conditions. Very similar materials can also differ in appearance, such as gloss or colour.
“We know how to produce self-undercoating materials. This means that the material independently produces a coating that, in a way, sticks it to another material. We were able to develop a technology to achieve this in one solution. And here again we have savings – water, detergents and labour, because the entire process is automated,” added the scientist.