Editorial Feature

Innovative Nanocomposites for Aircraft Interior Applications

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AIM Altitude, Composites Evolution and Sheffield Hallam University have been working collaboratively to develop a new nanocomposite prepreg material for aircraft interiors. The material is produced from sustainable biowaste and exhibits exceptional properties compared to the current industry standard at a reduced cost.

Throughout history, materials have always been essential to any culture and society. In the 21st century, scientists are focusing on the optimization of readily available materials as well as developing new ones.

The importance of nanocomposites lies in their nature since they combine both the creation of new materials and the optimization of existing materials.

An advantage of working with known materials is that they have been extensively studied, and their properties are well understood

Combining suitable properties when producing nanocomposites results in a nanocomposite material with specific characteristics. This is used in many different industries, such as the aerospace sector.

Materials for the Aerospace Industry

Modern aviation has the highest demand for composite materials since it requires materials that are light and strong, while also being highly resistant to fire and smoke to ensure the safety of passengers.

From 2005 to 2019, the number of passengers boarded by the global airline industry has grown more than twice. On commercial flights, there were 2,135 million passengers in 2005 compared to 4,543 million passengers in 2019.

To reflect this increased demand, many improvements need to be made to current airplanes to increase safety and durability, and also improve passenger comfort. One way this can be achieved is through the development of sustainable composite materials to replace the current standard.

Companies are working on new technologies in the field to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers is a priority when designing a commercial aircraft.

Nanocomposites for Aircraft Interiors

Regardless of the airline or the aircraft, all materials used for the interior need to have a particular fire, smoke and toxicity (FST) profile and heat release characteristics.

AIM Altitude, Composites Evolution, and Sheffield Hallam University, backed by Innovative UK, have been working on the development of such materials. The project focuses on the design and incorporation of a nanocomposite prepreg material for an aircraft's interior.

The team has developed a thermosetting resin system to produce glass fibers, also known as prepregs, using a hot-melt process. This material has exceptional mechanical properties and excellent fire performance.

Read more: Nanoparticle Production Systems

A distinctive property of thermosetting polymers is that they change irreversibly into an infusible and insoluble polymer network by curing. The curing can be induced by heat, suitable radiation, or both.

Thermosetting resins have high thermal stability and hardness – once hardened, a thermoset cannot be melted or reshaped. The thermosetting resin system developed for this project is a blend of polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA) with a specific additive mix.

This development will bring to the market a new family of materials with properties that ensure a safer passenger environment.

Why PFA?

The PFA resin base has properties comparable to phenolics – it acts as a fire retardant and has exceptional chemical resistance to acids, alkalies and solvents.

Unlike phenolics, PFAs have an excellent FST performance and are much safer to use. This ensures the protection of passengers and the manufacturers building the aircraft. Increasing the safety of the cabins for different aircraft is of great importance for all customers of the aerospace industry.

Sustainable Bio-Based Resins

Other than being much safer, cheaper and easier to produce, PFA resin base is sustainable as it is created from biomass waste.

Biomass waste is a low-cost organic, renewable energy source left over from agricultural and forestry processes, and organic industrial, human and animal wastes.

The use of biomass waste ensures that the production of PFA resin base does not compete with the food industry and offers a more eco-friendly future for the aerospace industry.

The Future of Aircraft Interiors

The importance of using cheaper and more sustainable materials to provide a safer environment for passengers increases with the growth of the aerospace industry. Nanocomposites for aircraft interiors offer a promising solution that will inspire a new family of materials for the industry.

The successful conclusion of the project by AIM Altitude, Composites Evolution and Sheffield Hallam University in August 2020 will be a significant development for the future of the aerospace industry. This project marks the beginning of the commercialization of a new generation of nanocomposite materials for aircraft interiors.

References and Further Reading

Behera, A. and Mallick, P. (2020) Application of nanofibers in aerospace industry. Fiber-Reinforced Nanocomposites: Fundamentals and Applications, pp. 449-457. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-819904-6.00020-7 .

AIM Altitude (2020) COLLABORATIVE R&D PROJECT PROMISES GROUND-BREAKING COMPOSITE SOLUTION. [Online] AIM Altitude. Available at: https://www.aimaltitude.com/collaborative-rd-project-promises-ground-breaking-composite-solution/  (Accessed on 18 August 2020).

IUPAC (2019) Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book"). [Online] IUPAC. Available at: http://goldbook.iupac.org/terms/view/TT07168 (Accessed on 18 August 2020).

Peng, W. and Riedl, B. (1995) Thermosetting Resins. Journal of Chemical Education. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/ed072p587 .

Composites Evolution (2013) Composites Evolution to Exhibit Ecopreg PFA at Composites Engineering 2013. [Online] Composites Evolution. Available at: https://compositesevolution.com/news/composites-evolution-to-exhibit-ecopreg-pfa-at-composites-engineering-2013/#:~:text=Aside%20from%20its%20environmental%20credentials,well%20as%20excellent%20chemical%20resistance.&text=The%20glass%2FPFA%20prepreg%20systems,to%20compete%20with%20glass%2Dphenolics. (Accessed on 18th of August).

Mazareanu, E. (2020)Number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry from 2004 to 2021. [Online] Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/564717/airline-industry-passenger-traffic-globally/ . (Accessed on 18 August 2020).

Black, S. (2006) Advanced materials for aircraft interiors. [Online] Composites World. Available at: https://www.compositesworld.com/articles/advanced-materials-for-aircraft-interiors . (Accessed on 18 August 2020).

Schmitt, C. R. (1974) Polyfurfuryl Alcohol Resins. Polymer-Plastics Technology and Engineering. https://doi.org/10.1080/03602557408545025

Vaia, R. and Wagner,H. (2004)Framework for nanocomposites. Materials Today. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1369-7021(04)00506-1

Williams, J. The science and technology of composite materials. [Online] Australian Academy of Science. Available at: https://www.science.org.au/curious/technology-future/composite-materials . (Accessed on 18 August 2020).

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Yulia Yancheva

Written by

Yulia Yancheva

Yulia is currently pursuing an MPhys Physics degree at The University of Manchester and is passionate about experimental multidisciplinary research. Yulia's main interest is focused in the fields of biological physics, material science, surface physics and photonics. She discovered her passion for these fields during her foundation year in physics at The University of Manchester.

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