Chinese/UK graphene partnership to deliver lighter planes

The Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials (BIAM) and the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester will carry out a five-year collaborative research project which plans to deliver lighter, better performing aircraft and high-speed trains.

Research will focus on composites with enhanced performance in the field of mechanical, electric conductive and thermal conductive behaviour, as well as the compatibility of graphene and the matrix materials. In aerospace this might lead to applications of graphene in different materials and components, with weight saving accompanied by better performance.

According to the NGI, there are many ways graphene can be used in planes. These include improving the plastic that holds together the carbon fibre within the wing to stop water entering and increasing the weight of the aircraft. It can also be used to measure the strain in the wings to see if damage has occurred, or it could be used to de-ice the plane by replacing copper wiring and heating coils.

Ultimately, replacing the carbon fibre structure of the wings themselves is the major goal of the collaboration, but the NGI says this is “at least 20 years away”.

As well as aircraft, the research could have an impact on high-speed trains and industrial equipment to replace traditional materials.

Professor Robert Young, who leads the research project at The University of Manchester, said: “BIAM have a rapidly developing research programme on graphene composites and we are looking forward to pooling our expertise with them to facilitate the use of these materials in aerospace applications”.

Graphene has been included in the latest Chinese five-year plan and the country is starting to develop its domestic civil aerospace industry and expect to improve their expertise on materials.

The partnership is an extension of a project started last year, which is looking at creating graphene composites with metals such as aluminium.

Dr Shaojiu Yan, the principal investigator of graphene projects from BIAM, said: “We had a very good communication on the first collaborative project. Now a long term partnership would benefit us to broaden the research area on graphene materials, to enhance the collaborative research, as well as to exchange experience and expertise on graphene.”

The project, which will run until 2020, will involve joint research on graphene projects, strengthening of the ties in graphene technology and the exchange of personnel between Beijing and Manchester.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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