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U.K. Grant Funds Composite Materials Research

Wind Turbine Rotor (NREL)

(National Renewable Energy Lab)

A research team from two universities in the U.K. have been awarded a grant to develop a new generation of high performance, fiber-reinforced polymer composites to overcome failures that can happen with little warning. The £6 million ($US 9.6 million) six-year grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council was awarded to University of Bristol’s Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science and The Composites Centre at Imperial College London.

The project aims to create a new generation of high performance, ductile or malleable fiber-reinforced polymer composites that can sustain large deformations without breaking. Existing fiber-reinforced polymer composites are known for their high strength and stiffness, but if the material fails, which can happen suddenly, the results can be catastrophic.

Advanced composites, based on carbon, glass, and aramid fibers, are a lightweight material technology that also offer operational savings and extended service lifetimes.  The U.K. supplies these advanced composite materials, with sales estimated £1.6 billion per year.

Talking of these composites, Michael Wisnom, Bristol’s team leader on the project, says “we are witnessing a rapid expansion of their use in aerospace and other applications, such as wind turbine blades, sporting goods and civil engineering.” But Wisnom adds that despite these advances, “a fundamental limitation of current composites is their inherent brittleness. Failure can be sudden and catastrophic, with little warning or residual load carrying capacity.”

Alexander Bismarck, Wisnom’s counterpart at Imperial College London, notes that higher performance ductile composites will be able to dent without significant loss in performance, but continue to support loads without catastrophic failure. And, says Bismarkck, they can “provide greater reliability and safety, together with reduced design and maintenance requirements, and longer service life.”

Several U.S., British, and European companies are supporting the project including BAE Systems, Halliburton, Hexcel, Mouchel, Rolls-Royce, and Vestas.

Read more: National Lab, University Develop Tougher, Stronger Glass

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1 comment to U.K. Grant Funds Composite Materials Research

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