Media Releases

University of Toronto student gets a financial boost by clinching the top spot in a national automotive R&D competition

February 2, 2012

MISSISSAUGA, ON – A new biodegradable material made from shrimp and crab shells that can replace petroleum-based plastics used in auto components helped a University of Toronto student win a national automotive competition. Aaron Guan, a master of science student, 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 R&D projects at 46 universities across the country. Over 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. AUTO21 HQP each contribute to an industry-led research project working on key issues in Canada’s automotive sector,” said Dr. Peter Frise, Scientific Director and CEO of AUTO21. “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 Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters’ 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.

In addition to the $10,000 scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Anthony Lombardi of Ryerson University for his research on reducing distortion in aluminum engine blocks. A $2,500 scholarship was awarded to Tara Kajaks of McMaster University for her research on improved ergonomic simulation and modeling in manufacturing plants.

AUTO21 supports research projects in six key areas: health, safety and injury prevention; societal issues; materials and manufacturing; design processes; powertrains, fuels and emissions; and intelligent systems and sensors. A recent independent economic impact study of AUTO21 projects estimates that Network research is generating more than $1.1 billion in economic and social benefits to Canada. AUTO21 is supported by the Government of Canada through a Networks of Centres of Excellence program, and its administrative centre is hosted by the University of Windsor.


For more information, please contact:

Stephanie Campeau
Director of Public Affairs and Communications
AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence
Office: 519-253-3000 ext. 4129
Cell: 519-890-6830