Haydale Composite Solutions Ltd (HCS) has entered into a collaborative 18 month research project awarded and managed by the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP).
Carbon fibre composites are used extensively in aircraft applications such as fuselages, leading edges and wing surfaces. However, because the carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite materials are poor conductors of electricity they are prone to damage from lightning strike. This has led to aircraft companies incorporating copper or aluminium meshes into the composite materials which add significant weight and cost.
The electrical conductivity of graphene enhanced composites has already been established. The aim of this new project is to develop highly electrically conductive epoxy resins through the addition of functionalised graphene which, when combined with conductive carbon fibre, is expected to result in a highly conductive carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite material capable of withstanding lightning strike in its own right. The development of such a material would result in safer aircraft, weight and cost savings from the elimination of the expensive metallic meshes as well as eliminating time associated with integrating the meshes into the structure.
The project involves two end users; Airbus UK and BAE Systems Plc. Collaborating in the project are Cobham Plc (lightning strike advice and testing), SHD Composites Ltd (carbon fibre reinforced epoxy resin pre-impregnated fabric supplier) and HCS (supplier of functionalised graphene enhanced epoxy resins). NATEP are providing a grant of up to £150,000 towards the £300,000 cost of the research project, of which HCS will receive up to £100,000.
Gerry Boyce, Managing Director of HCS, commented: "The ability to develop electrically conductive epoxy resins by incorporating alternate forms of graphene functionalised by our proprietary HDPlas process is a great opportunity for us. We are very excited about developing highly conductive carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite materials and structures which require no additional parasitic lightning strike protection. The ability to add graphene to change one of the fundamental characteristics of the base resin, in this case, electrical conductivity, is a most important development for composite engineers and could lead to a whole new generation of graphene enhanced composite materials."
Ray Gibbs, Haydale Chief Executive, added: "At the beginning of June we announced the appointment of Ebbi Shahidi and Quentin Fontana to develop our aerospace division within HCS and I am very pleased with this early, significant development. The support of NATEP is very welcome as it will accelerate our research in this area and enable us to collaborate with leading aerospace companies to develop new materials and structures at the forefront of emerging technology."
Bridget Day, NATEP Deputy Programme Directorll, commented: "We are delighted to welcome Haydale into the NATEP programme. It is particularly pleasing to assist them with a practical application that uses the exciting properties of graphene in the aerospace industry. We see this as having a high potential for jobs growth and exports. NATEP is a £40m programme helping UK supply chain companies develop 100 novel technologies. It will also enhance UK supply chain capabilities and networks and enable them to deliver high added value to future aerospace products and services and increase their ability to win new business with higher tier companies anywhere in the world. NATEP is being implemented by the UK's national aerospace strategy body, the Aerospace Growth Partnership, and includes £23m from the government department responsible for business, through its Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative fund, this fund is administered by Finance Birmingham. It is also sponsored by leading UK aerospace primes and Tier 1s: Airbus, Bombardier, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and Spirit. NATEP builds on the successful regional Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (ATEP) run by the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, MAA, from 2006-12, by turning ATEP into a four-year national programme. MAA have supported Haydale with their project application and will continue to support them through the life of the project."