A small step for students but a giant leap for the circular transition
Many innovations created by students at Halmstad University align with the Global Goals to be achieved by 2030. This spring, Iris Nyholm and Clara Olérs Ekman, from the Master’s Programme in Mechanical Engineering, Sustainable Design and Innovation, were among those students who excelled. This by transforming a linear cycle into a circular one for their graduation project. The students received a scholarship from Stena Recycling for their solution.
”I believe it is important to make the most of the Earth’s resources and always strive to create products that care for our world.”
Clara Olérs Ekman, student from the Master’s Programme in Mechanical Engineering, Sustainable Design and Innovation
Stena Recycling Inc. annually rewards a graduation project from Halmstad University. Stena Recycling, with whom the University has a strategic collaboration agreement, aims to highlight ideas that contribute to the circular transition, such as in design, health, system and technology solutions, and business models. The scholarship of SEK 20,000 is awarded at the scholarship ceremony during Utexpo, the University’s graduation fair for graduates at the end of the spring semester. This year, students Iris Nyholm and Clara Olérs Ekman received the scholarship for their thesis project titled “Is it possible to achieve a more environmentally friendly production of orthoses?”.
Global Goals: Goal 12
Humanity consumes far beyond what our planet can sustain. A transition to sustainable consumption and production of goods, Goal 12 in the Global Goals Agenda 2030, is necessary to reduce the negative impact on climate, environment, and human health. Circular economy is a term that is getting more and more common, but what does it mean? It can be best understood in contrast to a linear economy, which can be described as a “take-make-dispose model.”
“I believe it is important to make the most of the Earth’s resources and always strive to create products that care for our world,” says Iris Nyholm, and Clara Olérs Ekman explains:
“That is why our graduation project has been based on a product that currently follows a linear lifecycle.”
The quest for environmentally friendly materials
The product that the scholarship recipients have focused on is an ankle foot orthosis, an ankle support that primarily aids individuals who have difficulties caused by drop foot. Today, these products are typically made of carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy, a material that requires significant energy consumption during production, and poses challenges for recycling. Iris Nyholm and Clara Olérs Ekman have therefore explored the possibility of finding a sustainable alternative material that would give the product a circular lifecycle.
“A major challenge has been to find a material that can replace carbon fiber, since it is a high-performance material with excellent durability properties,” says Iris Nyholm.
By following a material selection methodology, Iris Nyholm and Clara Olérs Ekman validated the results through digital simulations in a simplified CAD model. Their graduation project concluded that polyphenylene, a self-reinforced thermoplastic, is a suitable replacement material for carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy.
“When manufacturing the thermoplastic, less energy consumption is required, and it is possible to recycle it by melting it again,” explains Clara Olérs Ekman, and continues:
“This allows the product and any waste material from the manufacturing process to be recycled. Suddenly, we have a circular cycle!”
”My time as a student has been filled with enjoyable and exciting challenges that have taught me a lot.”
Iris Nyholm, former student from the Master’s Programme in Mechanical Engineering, Sustainable Design and Innovation
Work and studies await
The graduation project has been of great significance to Iris Nyholm and Clara Olérs Ekman. They want to demonstrate the crucial need for transitioning to a circular economy to minimise material extraction. Such a transition is important regardless of whether it occurs on a small or large scale.
“It is very exciting that our work is appreciated, especially by Stena Recycling, who work hard to create a more sustainable world,” says Iris Nyholm about receiving the scholarship.
Iris Nyholm originally comes from Höganäs. During her high school years, she became interested in circular economy and sustainable design, which led her to apply for a Master’s Programme in Mechanical Engineering, Sustainable Design, and Innovation. The programme, which is five years for a Master’s degree, also provides the students with a Bachelor’s degree after three years. Iris Nyholm has chosen to complete her studies after three years and will now receive a Bachelor’s degree. In the autumn, an exciting trainee position awaits her at NIBE in Markaryd, a global corporation that develops intelligent and energy-efficient solutions for indoor comfort.
“I believe my education has provided me with a broad and solid foundation for my future career. My time as a student has been filled with enjoyable and exciting challenges that have taught me a lot,” says Iris Nyholm.
For Clara Olérs Ekman, originally from Borlänge, two more years of studies await as she aims for a Master’s degree in Engineering. She pursued a technical science programme with a focus on sustainability during her high school years. Her interest continued to grow, which eventually led her to Halmstad University.
“So far, what I take away from my time as a student and the graduation project is that hard work pays off,” says Clara Olérs Ekman optimistically.
Halmstad University in collaboration with Stena Recycling Inc.
One of the focus areas of Halmstad University is Smart Cities and Communities, which is a multidisciplinary research and education initiative across the institution. The goal of this focus area is to prepare individuals and communities to address industrial and societal challenges. The University has collaboration agreements with several key partners in research and education, with Stena Recycling Inc. being one of them.
Stena Recycling is a recycling company that creates solutions for a more circular society. The company collects all conceivable residual materials generated from both operations and production. These materials are processed and can then be reused as raw materials for new products or energy.
Text: Katarina Tran
Photo: Dan Bergmark