July 24, 2022

Advanced Composites as a Better Combination of Materials

The discipline of advanced composites introduces multiple technologically sophisticated materials that provide performance or strength that is impossible with a single material. Performance elements possible with composites include lighter weights in highly durable products. At the same time, there is a need to develop composites using Cradle-to-Cradle design principles.
The Benefits of Combinations

Last week we explored the exciting potential of the material graphene.  In this article, we continue focusing on materials by exploring advanced composites.  A definition describes composites as a combination of two (or more) materials with different physical and chemical properties.  Performance elements possible with composites include lighter weights in highly durable products.  In addition, designs with multiple materials meet specific strength criteria and flexibilities.  Additional properties are resistance to corrosion and fatigue in composites using organic and inorganic materials.  While advanced composites are emerging, composites date back centuries.  

" It is an exciting time to be in the composite materials business.  A confluence of factors, and a lot of work by various organizations, are setting the stage for a new era of design and acceptance with these high-performance materials." – Dustin Davis
A Long History

Per Advanced Composites, the ancient Ming Dynasty was an early known culture to use composite construction.  Manchu artisans developed composite bows using inlaid bone and ligament in bamboo and wood, capable of higher projectile speeds through greater draw weight.  Over the years, composite materials' evolution includes ceramics, concrete (used in ancient Rome), cultured marble, textiles, and laminated woods.  As different materials and manufacturing processes have emerged, composites' sophistication has advanced significantly to include various construction forms through creative engineering design.

Forms of Composite Materials

Campbell writes in Structural Composite Materials about various forms of composite materials.  Two primary reinforcement types are continuous and discontinuous.  Continuous examples include unidirectional, woven, and filament wound.  The discontinuous versions have chopped and mat fibers.  Random short fibers provide the least amount of strength and the most flexibility.  Random-aligned composites are stronger with medium elasticity, and aligned fibers have greater rigidity.  As fiber volume increases, the strength will increase to a specific volume percentage level regardless of form.

Research Advances

A Textile World article focuses on using advanced composites to build a clean energy economy.  Fiber-reinforced polymers can reduce emissions and improve transportation efficiency with high-strength-to-weight ratios in high-performance products.  The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) accelerates advanced composites' development in focus areas, including materials and processes, modeling and simulation, compressed gas storage, wind technologies, and vehicles.  The work is enhancing improved performance in carbon fiber technologies.  Other gains include faster additives and intermediaries cycle times, innovative reinforcements, reduced embodied energy, integrated features, and cost reductions.  While advancing this material area, their capabilities are likely less than those of the National Aerospace and Science Administration (NASA).

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To the Moon and Back

With state-of-the-art ultra-high-strength fibers, NASA is taking advanced composites to new heights, literally and figuratively.  The available blends include nanoparticle, polymer, and polymer-fiber blends.  The benefits are enhanced strength, increased material lifetime, damage resistance, and resilient materials ideal for automotive, energy, industrial, and marine applications.  Initially developed to reduce manufacturing costs and improve fuel economy, other industries adapt the materials in new ways.  Just a few of many material advanced composites examples include 1) nanomaterials that are easier to process while also more formidable and resistant, 2) niobium-titanium titride thin film coating used as a mid-to-far infrared absorber at cryogenic temperatures that simultaneously acts as a high pass filter, 3) resin transfer molding 370 resin for high-temperature applications using a revolutionary solvent-free process, and 4) specular coatings for lightweight mirrors or reflectors.  In addition, organizations interested in applying them for their production can license them through NASA, an opportunity to take advantage of some of our tax dollars.

Key Takeaway

There will be an ongoing integration of advanced composites across all industries.  As processes are further optimized and overall costs come down, consumers will benefit through increased safety and decreased fuel costs in various transportation modes—more efficient power generation reduces energy production costs.  Additionally, there will also be a net environmental improvement.  We should evaluate how advanced composites will impact our specific industries and develop an integration plan viable for an organization's environmental, financial, and social elements.

Next Step

While composite materials have many benefits, there is an end-of-life issue in most current applications and should utilize Cradle to Cradle or circular design principles.  An example is the blades for wind turbines that primarily end up in landfills when decommissioned.  A video by CPI shares more about the everyday difficulties of trying to recycle fossil polymers.  The company is working to develop bio-based polymers or de-bondable structures.

My Gratitude

I am grateful for the emerging carbon fiber recycling startups, including Bcircular, Mallinda, Thermoplastic Composites Application Center, and Vartega.  These companies are working to develop sustainable solutions to existing issues that will ultimately lead to a better future.  

Sneak Peak

Next week's blog will shift our focus to the emerging processes that will allow for more superior products that align with the humanist manufacturing framework.  

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