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John O | December 2016

Technology enhances electrical and thermal conductivity of composites

collaboration between the university of surrey’s (u.k.) advanced technology institute (ati), the university of bristol’s (u.k.) advanced composite center for innovation and science (accis) and aerospace company bombardier has developed a new technology that increases the electrical and thermal conductivity of carbon fiber reinforced composites.



this new technology could have implications for the aerospace industry. (wikimedia commons)


the researchers introduced carbon nanotubes on the surface of the carbon fibers to introduce the electrical and thermal properties to the composites.


the hop, according to a press release from the university of surrey, is that this development could have significant implications in energy harvesting and storage structures, as well as aerospace and automotive designs.


one of the researchers at accis, dr. thomas pozegic, explained, “the aerospace industry still relies on metallic structures, in the form of a copper mesh, to provide lightning strike protection and prevent static charge accumulation on the upper surface of carbon fiber composites because of the poor electrical conductivity.


“this adds weight and makes fabrication with carbon fiber composites difficult. the material that we have developed utilizes high-quality carbon nanotubes grown at a high density to allow electrical transport throughout the composite material.”


the research was recently published in scientific reports. the abstract stated:


“carbon fibre reinforced polymers (cfrp) were introduced to the aerospace, automobile and civil engineering industries for their high strength and low weight. a key feature of cfrp is the polymer sizing - a coating applied to the surface of the carbon fibres to assist handling, improve the interfacial adhesion between fibre and polymer matrix and allow this matrix to wet-out the carbon fibres.


“in this paper, we introduce an alternative material to the polymer sizing, namely carbon nanotubes (cnts) on the carbon fibres, which in addition imparts electrical and thermal functionality. high quality cnts are grown at a high density as a result of a 35 nm aluminium interlayer which has previously been shown to minimise diffusion of the catalyst in the carbon fibre substrate.


“a cnt modified-cfrp show 300%, 450% and 230% improvements in the electrical conductivity on the ‘surface’, ‘through-thickness’ and ‘volume’ directions, respectively. furthermore, through-thickness thermal conductivity calculations reveal a 107% increase.


“these improvements suggest the potential of a direct replacement for lightning strike solutions and to enhance the efficiency of current de-icing solutions employed in the aerospace industry.”

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