Stemergy: Renewable Fibre Technology

The City of London Ontario and the UWO will build an International Composites Research Centre

3 February 2011

By Heather Travis - Western News

The City of London is in the process of finalizing a $10 million deal to support the construction of the International Composites Research Centre (ICRC) to be built at The University of Western Ontario's Advanced Manufacturing Park.

The International Composites Research Centre is part of the overall development of the Advanced Manufacturing Park, which includes the construction of the WindEEE Dome.

The city has allocated, in principle, the money to help with the construction, but London Mayor Joe Fontana says the municipality needs to ensure it is not breaking any municipal laws or the municipal act by allocating the funds to the university. The agreement is currently under review by the city's solicitor and legal counsel. The university also has a lawyer involved in the review.

“I don't see it as an obstacle or a problem. It's about getting the paperwork right,” Fontana says. “The money is there. It's just a question of making sure the government's structure that we put in place is in keeping with, obviously, the municipal act and what cities can and can't do.”

It is a ‘build it and we will come' scenario for Western.

Ted Hewitt, vice-president (research & international relations), signed a memorandum of agreement last June with world-renowned Germany-based company Fraunhofer Institute of Chemical Technology to set up a facility in London. It will be the first industry-focused institute of its kind in North America for applied research and development of advanced light-weight composite materials.

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is the largest organization for applied research in Europe, with more than 80 research units, including 62 Fraunhofer Institutes at different locations in Germany, as well as research centers and offices in Europe, the United States, Asia and the Middle East.

“It's just a question of dotting the I's and crossing the T's,” Fontana explains. “We are just excited about the fact we are able to partner with the university and with Fraunhofer for the purpose of creating ICRC.”

Once the review is completed, it will be brought before city council again for a final vote on the allocation, Hewitt notes.

“We are confident council will approve it since they've given indication not only once, but twice in the past that this is good for London,” he says.

Resting on this approval are final contracts with Fraunhofer. Once the deal for the transaction is made, the university can issue a purchase order for the equipment needed to set up ICRC.

“The deal with Fraunhofer is we will build this facility, but it will contain equipment of such a specialized nature (manufactured in Canada) that it will require a highly specialized team of experts to operate it,” Hewitt says. “This machinery currently is only operated by the Fraunhofer society in Germany. This will be the only other piece of equipment in the world. It is designed to do prototyping for lightweight material for automotive and other manufacturing purposes.

“It can produce a part in five seconds for a car.”

In record speed the specialized equipment can create a door panel or molding for a car interior that is fully coloured and ready to bolt on a car. It uses silica strands and can employ biomaterials, such as hemp.

“It's lighter and cheaper and faster than any other way of doing this,” Hewitt says. “This is the most advanced technology available in the world. Fraunhofer owns the intellectual property. Only they can do it. Anybody can buy the press, but only they can operate it. So Fraunhofer will, in effect, be mandated to operate the (ICRC) facility.”

What this means for Western is Fraunhofer will allocate time for faculty members and students to use the facility alongside its technicians, in addition to the company completing its own contract work.

“It's a collaboration in the sense we are providing the location and the equipment, Fraunhofer is providing the expertise and the management,” Hewitt says. “It is certainly a boom for research and it will create jobs.”

The City of London has provided 25 acres on Bradley Avenue, east of Veterans Memorial Parkway, to the university. ICRC is part of the overall development of the Advanced Manufacturing Park, which includes the construction of the WindEEE Dome.

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