Canadian Plastics

British researchers designing “self-healing” polymer

A new four-year research project launched by Imperial College London and the University of Bristol is focusing on t...

July 21, 2008   Canadian Plastics

A new four-year research project launched by Imperial College London and the University of Bristol is focusing on the development of self-healing polymer composites for use in the transportation and aerospace industries.

The Crack Arrest and Self-Healing in Composite Structures (CRASHCOMPS) project will be funded by a 1.2 million Euro ($1.9 million) grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

The team’s research will focus on carbon fibre polymer composites materials made by combining strong, stiff fibres with polymers to create strong, durable and lightweight materials. These are particularly important in the aerospace and transport industries, which currently use carbon fibre composites to make aircraft wings, helicopter rotor blades and ship hulls.

“Because engineers are worried about cracks forming in composites, they currently build many aircraft parts much stronger, and therefore heavier, than may be necessary, so they can withstand a 40 per cent loss in strength during use,” said Dr Emile Greenhalgh from Imperial College London’s Composites Centre. “This means more fuel is needed to get them off the ground and flying to their destinations, which is far from ideal, in terms of aviation’s impact on the environment.”

The aim of the new research project is to develop tailor-made composite materials which arrest the development of cracks, and heal themselves, which can be used to build lightweight, safe, damage-resistant components for more fuel-efficient aircraft, trains, cars and ships.

According to Dr. Greenhalgh, the team at Imperial will introduce materials that will deflect the path of the crack, and absorb the fracture energy associated with it. Once the crack has been arrested, the team at University of Bristol will utilize materials which ‘bleed and clot’, healing the crack and recovering much of the original material strength.

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