A collaboration between two UK universities and the aerospace firm Bombardier has seen the development of a technology that could help increase both the electrical and thermal conductivity of widely-used composite materials.
The introduction of carbon fibre has revolutionised numerous industries and today it’s possible to find items as diverse as helicopter blades and protective clothing to be made from this extremely resilient, yet light, material.
However, its application in certain areas, such as the electronics industry, has been hindered due to the composite’s inherently bad conductivity.
But all that could be a thing of the past.
Working out of the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and the University of Bristol’s Advanced Composite Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), the researchers successfully improved carbon fibre’s thermal and electrical conductivity.
The team achieved this by growing nanotubes on the surface of carbon fibre, thereby creating a compound that is multifunctional but, importantly, retains its high structural integrity.
This could mean that the sensors of the future and certain electronic components – predominantly those used in high-stress environments – could be made of carbon fibre.
Speaking about the breakthrough, Professor Ravi Silva, the ATI’s director, had this to say: “carbon fibre composites could lead to exciting possibilities…We are currently working on such prototypes and have many ideas including the incorporation of current aerospace [and] satellite technology in automotive design.”
A fellow researcher, Dr Thomas Pozegic, noted that the discovery could completely change the way that products are designed for the aerospace industry.
There remains a reliance on “metallic structures, in the form of a copper mesh, to provide lightning strike protection and prevent start charges,” he explained.
Pozegic went on to suggest that this carbon fibre composite could replace traditional, cumbersome metal safeguards in components and assemblies.