Researchers to work on developing aircraft parts from graphene composites

Graphene, currently being researched to develop aircraft parts

A new partnership between Manchester University and the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials (BIAM) will see researchers explore how graphene composites can be used in the manufacture of aircraft parts.

Graphene is a crystalline allotrope of carbon, and has many extraordinary properties. It is an extremely light material which is a hundred times stronger than steel and conducts electricity efficiently.

The two institutions will co-operate on projects which will test the structure of graphene reinforced aluminium matrix nanocomposites and their application in aircraft, which could potentially result in replacements for traditional materials for stronger, conductive and lighter parts not only for aircraft, but also for high-speed trains and other industrial equipment.

Professor Robert Young, who is leading the partnership, claims that the addition of graphene to aluminium alloys can considerably increase their strength, while also allowing the materials to retain their flexibility. BIAM have already demonstrated this, though there is not yet an understanding of how the mechanism works.

In order to prevent the aluminium being dissolved when the graphene is added, BIAM have developed a ball-milling process, where the aluminium remains in a solid state, with the Manchester team helping to develop this technique further. They will also investigate the impact of adding graphene to aluminium on how the material corrodes.

In the future, the partnership also hopes to look beyond reinforced aluminium matrix composites when it comes to the application of graphene, and develop further graphene energy storage, environmental purification and information materials. In particular, there are hopes that by adding graphene to the plastic that holds together the carbon fibre in aircraft wings, it should prevent water from entering the wings as it acts as a plate-like physical barrier.

There are further plans to explore the use of graphene in the prevention of ice build-up on aircraft wings. By adding it to the polymer electricity could be passed through it, heating it up and melting the ice. This would serve as a replacement to the current copper wiring and heating coils reducing the overall weight of the aircraft and improving fuel efficiencies.

Eventually, the researchers are looking to even replace the carbon fibre used for the wings with graphene, though this aspect of the project is expected to take at least 20 years.

As the new generation aircraft progressively look to composites to enhance structure and design and provide efficiencies, a new generation of maintenance engineers will need to be specifically trained on how to maintain and repair these new structures. The launch of the ELMS competency management application will provide organisations with real-time data and detailed insight into their maintenance staff’s training, qualifications and work history. Organisations will then be able to use this data to efficiently deploy only fully trained, competent composite specialists to the job required, improving efficiencies, reducing maintenance errors and ultimately improving safety. To find out more about ELMS click here.

Image: AlexanderAIUS, available under Creative Commons

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