Graphene-reinforced polymers the focus of EU project

NetComposites is leading an EU funded project to develop production techniques that will enable industrial scale quantities of graphene-reinforced thermosetting polymers.

The ultimate aim of the four-year PolyGraph initiative is to develop a process in which graphene can be produced and dispersed in-situ within thermosetting polymer resins, using relatively inexpensive, expanded graphite as a starting material.

The work is expected to lower the cost of these materials and make them viable for use in the wider composites, coatings and adhesives industries.

After several years of researching graphene-reinforced polymers, it is now well known that the addition of small quantities of graphene can provide significant improvements in strength, toughness and electrical and thermal conductivity to a number of polymers.

However, there are currently no techniques suitable for industrial-scale production of graphene-reinforced polymers.

Ben Hargreaves, NetComposites' senior project manager, explained: "PolyGraph will address this issue by developing two new routes to industrial-scale quantities of graphene-reinforced thermosetting polymers; both starting from a relatively inexpensive expanded graphite starting material.

"In the first route, we will develop new chemical and mechano-chemical methods to exfoliate the expanded graphite and produce graphene. Alongside this, we will develop the equipment and techniques necessary to disperse the graphene into low-viscosity thermosetting polymer resins in a uniform, consistent and scalable basis."

The second route, Hargreaves noted, will go a step further and develop the equipment and techniques to enable in-situ exfoliation of the expanded graphite and dispersion of the resulting graphene in a single operation, directly in the low-viscosity thermosetting polymer resins.

The PolyGraph project will run until November 2017. It involves 13 partners from industry and academia, including BAE Systems' Advanced Technology Centre and Queen Mary University of London.

Laura Hopperton

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