Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS


A newly established Advanced Composites Laboratory and Research Group is now reaching fruition at Queens University Belfast (QUB). The overarching purpose of this new capability is to establish a recognised research and development centre of excellence in next-generation Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) aerostructural composites. Together with support from Bombardier Aerospace Belfast; the Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering centre (NIACE), QUB and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) UK, an important element in the creation of this capability has been support of the research leader with a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant for the project entitled “Multifunctional Composite Aerostructures Utilising Carbon Nanotube Webs” (“MAGNUS”), which has now reached its midpoint.

The latest generation of large passenger aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 are at least 50% by weight CFRP. This material, whilst stronger and lighter, introduces new challenges that has restricted its full exploitation. Key amongst these challenges which inform the objectives of MAGNUS are (1) improving structural integrity, particularly interlaminar strength; (2) enabling early damage detection through in-situ structural health monitoring; (3) lightning strike protection through damage mitigation; and (4) integrated, energy efficient anti- and de-icing capability.

The aim of MAGNUS is to address these issues by creating the required multiple functionality in CFRP by utilising the unique properties of recently-developed carbon nanotube webs (CNTWs), produced from directly spinnable CNT forests. MAGNUS is pursuing the strategic placement and distribution of CNTWs, together with other CNT assemblies such as CNT forests, yarns and dispersions, interleaved between the plies of a multidirectional composite laminate and introduced over exposed structural surfaces. A key objective within the broad capability of advanced composites research is the establishment of a laboratory to produce the very high specification CNT materials necessary for this work.

In the two years since inception, the key accomplishments within the scope of MAGNUS are:

• The completion of a six month study to establish the basic processing and testing parameters for the CFRP and CNT materials and identify the appropriate equipment available and required.
• Appointment to a partial professorial position of an internationally recognised expert in CNT reactor and process research.
• Establishment of a CNT synthesis capability in temporary laboratory accommodation and the first growth at QUB of directly spinnable CNTs.
• Appointment of a PhD student to study the behaviour of CNT materials within CFRP structures, with emphasis on enhancing structural integrity and lightning strike protection (second year completed).
• Appointment of a PhD student to explore the anti-icing/de-icing performance of dsCNT webs, yarns, forests and dispersions (first year completed).
• Appointment of a PhD student to investigate the structural enhancement of composite joints which includes the use of dsCNT webs for structural health monitoring of these regions (first year completed).
• Support from QUB to provide and equip a purpose designed and built Advanced Composites Laboratory, scheduled for completion by May 2016.
• The appointment of three Post-Doctoral Research Associates (PDRAs) to augment the research experience and capabilities of the growing Advanced Composites Research group, funded through the recent award of a Euro 1.3M EPSRC grant MACANTA – Multifunctional hierarchical advanced composite aerostructures utilising the combined properties of different carbon nanotube assemblies.

A successful outcome of the ambitious objectives of MAGNUS will deliver a disruptive technology in the design and construction of the next generation of composite aerostructures. It will yield a significant weight reduction in future airframes and potentially lower maintenance costs, which will contribute to the overall aims of the European Union to reduce the environmental impact of aviation. Some of the additional functionalities, arising from the use of CNTWs, will also be of interest to other transport sectors and the wind energy industry. These objectives could not be realised without the significant levels of investment which the fellow has been able to secure since being awarded the CIG, which is in excess of Euro 2.1M. Nonetheless, the relatively modest level of funding awarded through the CIG (Euro 100k) was the catalyst which precipitated this follow-on funding and is mostly being used to support an international PhD student. It enabled the fellow to continue establishing his research within the UK and Europe and he has quickly developed a substantial research group which has already made a significant contribution to the research output at QUB. His long term prospects are excellent with his recent appointment to the position of Head of School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering which is a resounding endorsement of the fellow’s abilities.

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Life Sciences