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Graphene could have important role in aircraft lightning protection

08 September 2015

A graphene specialist is proposing the use of the material in aerospace composite structures to limit the damaging effects of lightning strikes on aircraft.

Image: Shutterstock

Haydale divisional company, Haydale Composite Solutions (HCS) has entered into a collaborative 18 month research project* to develop a highly conductive carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite material.

Carbon fibre composites are used extensively in aircraft applications such as fuselages, leading edges and wing surfaces. However, because the carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite materials are poor conductors of electricity they are prone to damage from lightning strike. This has led to aircraft companies incorporating copper or aluminium meshes into the composite materials which add significant weight and cost.

The electrical conductivity of graphene enhanced composites has already been established. The aim of this project is to develop highly electrically conductive epoxy resins through the addition of functionalised graphene which, when combined with conductive carbon fibre, is
expected to result in a highly conductive carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite material capable of withstanding a lightning strike in its own right.

The development of such a material would result in safer aircraft, weight and cost savings from the elimination of the expensive metallic meshes as well as eliminating time associated with integrating the meshes into the structure.

“The ability to develop electrically conductive epoxy resins by incorporating alternate forms of
graphene functionalised by our proprietary HDPlas process is a great opportunity for us," says HCS managing director, Gerry Boyce. "We are very excited about developing highly conductive carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite materials and structures which require no additional parasitic lightning strike protection.

"The ability to add graphene to change one of the fundamental characteristics of the base resin, in this case, electrical conductivity, is a most important development for composite engineers and could lead to a whole new generation of graphene enhanced composite materials."

* The project is awarded and managed by the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP) and involves two end users: Airbus UK and BAE Systems. Collaborating in the project are Cobham (lightning strike advice and testing), SHD Composites (carbon fibre reinforced epoxy resin pre-impregnated fabric supplier) and Haydale Composite Solutions (a supplier of functionalised graphene enhanced epoxy resins). NATEP are providing a grant of up to £150,000 towards the £300,000 cost of the research project, of which HCS will receive up to £100,000.


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