CPI and NCC collaborate to develop future lightweight materials

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is collaborating with the National Composites Centre (NCC) to develop the next generation of lightweight materials. The project, known as ‘Enhanced structural composites’ (ECOi), is evaluating the functionality and applicability of new graphene-enhanced materials in a variety of industries.

The ECOi project is being carried out in consultation with the University of Manchester at their National Graphene Institute, to generate and test an array of new graphene composites that have improved functional properties compared to current materials.

“The ability to manufacture exciting new materials, such as graphene-enhanced composites, at a rate and cost acceptable to industry could radically change products of the future,” said Alison Starr, executive director of strategy and business at the NCC. “This will reduce the impact on the environment, both when creating the materials, and when the resulting products are in use.”

Recent pressures to reduce carbon emissions, have increased the need to investigate innovative alternatives to conventional materials. With graphene being lightweight yet strong, it has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing process and operating costs, while improving the rate at which products can be manufactured. For example, using graphene-enhanced materials to build a plane would make the vehicle weigh less, thus improving fuel efficiency and reducing harmful carbon emissions.

The ECOi project will identify multiple grades of graphene and optimise them for incorporation into a resin. Prior investigations have primarily researched graphene utility under laboratory conditions. The project will then look to scale-up the process to produce pilot industrial volumes of material. Suitable graphene-enhanced composite materials will be selected and investigated to understand if the enhanced properties shown during lab scale, such as electrical conductivity and toughness, translate when the material is produced at an industrial scale.

Materials identified within the ECOi project will be subject to a series of complex experiments designed to assess activity and function, to ensure it is suited to the desired application. This includes tests for the mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of the material. Knowledge gained in the project will be disseminated to UK manufacturing companies, helping to safeguard the long-term future for the UK’s materials manufacturing industry.

By investigating these new routes for composite material formation under industrial guidance, the risks associated with these processes can be avoided or reduced, potentially decreasing the time it takes for new, advanced materials to reach the marketplace.

Tom Taylor, director of future business at CPI added: “If successful, this project will ultimately contribute to the safeguarding and creation of UK-based jobs, as well as helping the aviation industry become more sustainable.”

Tom Austin-Morgan

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