What are the Latest Breakthroughs in Composite Materials?

In order to produce cutting edge solutions for the rail, aerospace, industrial and automotive markets. The active R&D program from TRB Lightweight Structures is making exciting progress in the use of composite materials and advanced processing techniques.

TRB Lightweight Structures

Composite materials are widely recognized to offer weight savings in comparison to traditional solutions, but the problems that can arise with high volume manufacturing of these materials have so far proven a barrier to many industries fully taking advantage of their benefits. TRB are in the midst of spearheading the solving of these challenges. For example, the electric vehicle industry is growing significantly, and there are calls for improved battery enclosures that can provide ingress protection (IP) against water, dust and other foreign bodies, and meet the unique structural requirements needed to contain a thermal runaway.

Advantages of Composite Battery Enclosures

While aluminum enclosures have commonly been used in the past, new composite battery enclosures are substantially lighter, offsetting the weight increase from the batteries to improve electric vehicle range. For composite enclosures, the biggest obstacle is being able to manufacture them at sufficient speed. To tackle this issue, TRB has put together a streamlined lay-up process with snap cure prepregs and rapid pressing techniques to lessen cycle times from several hours down to around five minutes, dramatically transforming the manufacturing process.

PFA for Interior Panels

The use of a new resin – polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA) – is an exciting breakthrough for composite interior panels, in the aerospace sector. This sustainable resin is derived from biomass waste, and may in the future replace the oil-derived resins currently used for this application. Using PFA instead of phenolic prepregs prevents the need to work with harmful chemicals, such as free formaldehydes and phenols, making the resin more user-friendly and healthier for the environment. On the other hand, PFA-based sandwich panels can suffer from a reduced skin-to-core bond strength, which has been compensated for by optimizing cure parameters and using carefully chosen secondary adhesives. 

Applications

Attention is also being drawn to developing multi-functional composite products, for example, by introducing conductive pathways through structural composite components. This opens the doorway to a plethora of possible new applications, such as integrating wiring into standard battery enclosures – which then allows traditional wiring looms to be removed. It is a thrilling development, to be able to incorporate these extra properties and features, while maintaining a lightweight composite product, and this kind of multi-functionality will be crucial to continuing development of composites in the future.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided byTRB Lightweight Structures Ltd.

For more information on this source, please visit TRB Lightweight Structures Ltd.

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