In the new generation aircrafts of today, to save fuel and cut emissions, polymer composites are used extensively, for fuselage and other components. Several aerospace manufacturers had switched to weight-reducing composites but for a limited range of applications. CSIRO researchers have set themselves the goal of producing a new generation of super-strong, lightweight polymer composite materials for use in aircraft, road vehicles, trains and ferries. The team is designing and testing even lighter and stronger polymer composites with improved mechanical properties that allow greater design flexibility and down-gauging of wall thickness for additional weight savings. This will be achieved with the use of nanotechnology. By dispersing low concentrations of specially chosen additives within the polymer matrix, the polymers show improved strength, stiffness, impact resistance, fire resistance, and heat reflectance.
One of the team’s key competencies is designing and dispersing functional additives on a nanometer scale using conventional polymer composite processing equipment. The design of the additive and controlling its dispersion are both crucial to producing the mix of properties required. We will continue to partner with manufacturers who can exploit our research capabilities for producing their own unique applications.
Some of the new functional additives are effective at trace concentrations, below 1%. This low content is a bonus because it avoids unwanted changes in the material’s processing ability and end properties such as surface finish, while still improving mechanical properties.