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13th August 2019, Riverside, CA

New bio-inspired technology poised to disrupt the composites industry

The odontodactylus scyllarus mantis shrimp. © Roy L. Caldwell, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley

The odontodactylus scyllarus mantis shrimp. © Roy L. Caldwell, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Millions of years ago, the ‘smasher’ mantis shrimp, one of nature’s feistiest predators, evolved to develop an internal structure to protect the hammer-like club it uses to pulverise prey with incredible speed and force.

This unique structure that wraps around the mantis shrimp’s club protects it from self-inflicting damage as it crushes hard-shelled prey.

The University of California Riverside (UCR) has spent over 11 years and over US$ 9 million dollars reverse engineering the club and has determined that it is not the material, but the structure that provides the strength and toughness. The material is organised in sheets of locally parallel fibres that are stacked upon each other such that each sheet is skewed by an angle from the sheet below it. This unique architecture is called a helicoid and has now been broadly patented by UCR and licensed to Helicoid Industries Inc. to commercialise its use in composite materials. 

Manufacturing ultra-strong composite materials and components using this helicoid structure will result in them being lighter, stronger, tougher, and more impact resistant. 

Manufacturing any composite product that is currently made with traditional fibre alignment and simply utilising the helicoid structure, will provide one of two benefits (or a combination of both):

Composite parts will provide similar strength and toughness, but only require approximately half of the material to achieve these properties, resulting in reduced material costs, reduced weight, and better energy efficiency.

Using the same amount of material would result in approximately twice the strength, toughness, and damage resistance which would be preferred in applications where weight reduction is not a driving factor such as armour plating or bullet proof vests. The benefits of the helicoid structure have been demonstrated regardless of the materials used to create the composite material.

This helicoid structure is a platform technology that can easily be applied to numerous industries that are constantly searching for lighter and stronger components.

The technology, which creates material with a structure that resembles twisted plywood, has been developed by David Kisailus, professor of chemical and environmental engineering, as well and materials science and engineering at the University of California, Riverside.

In the mantis shrimp, the helicoid prevents cracks from growing and ultimately dissipates significant amounts of energy from strikes to avoid catastrophic failure. It achieves immense impact resistance without adding unnecessary weight. Kisailus and his team discovered manufacturing ultrastrong composite materials and components using this helicoid structure results in lighter, tougher, and more impact-resistant products.

Helicoid Industries now hopes to sublicense the technology to the sporting goods, wind turbine, aerospace, auto parts, defence, and industrial components industries. The impact in the sporting goods industry could be significant, where weight of equipment is an issue.

However, the biggest impact could be felt in wind-turbine manufacturing where the lower energy production costs of larger blades are offset by limitations imposed by their increased weight. Helicoid composite materials would make larger, more lightweight blades and improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of wind-based energy production.

UC Riverside’s Office of Technology Partnerships, or OTP, leads technology transfer, industry partnership, and entrepreneurship efforts for the university. The integrated OTP team, including intellectual property and commercialisation experts, mentors from EPIC SBDC, the office’s Small Business Development Centre, and scientists worked closely with Helicoid Industries to support the licensing and fundraising process to ensure a successful venture.

“We are delighted to partner with Helicoid Industries to commercialise this unique technology, so it can positively impact society,” said Rosibel Ochoa, associate vice chancellor of technology partnerships at UC Riverside.     

Helicoid is finalising a US$ 5 million financing round to build its management and sales teams and to complete prototype manufacturing. It envisages commercialisation before the end of 2019.

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