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FIBRALSPEC (FP7)


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Summary description of project context and objectives

After more than 5 decades of research, carbon fibres and their composites have reached maturity and they are currently not just a ‘high-end’ costly solution for low rate production, but represent a growing industry with a multitude of applications. Their success is due to their high strength-to-weight ratio and to the fact that in composites they exhibit a combination of valuable properties that may provide a solution in complex problems of materials science and technology. In 2010 their production was around 75,000 tons per year, with expected growth rate of around 7 % for the following five years. Some of their most important applications are in the sports and leisure industry with articles for many sports (tennis racquets, golf clubs, bicycles etc.), in the aerospace industry (the newest and largest commercial airplanes, Boeing 787 and Airbus A380, have a large part of their airframe built using carbon fibre composites) and for the blades used in wind turbines. The most important precursor (in terms of production volume) is polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibres; PAN-based carbon fibres represent more than 70 % of the total carbon fibre (CF) production. A point to note here is the supply and availability of carbon fibres in the future where there is a need for the EU States to be independent of the current supply chain. Moreover, there is also a need to consider precursor for CF that are not derived from petroleum. Other important precursors are pitches of various forms like petroleum-, coal tar- or mesophase- pitch. Innovative processes with streamlining and improved control will be conducted in FIBRALSPEC, using a Unit for Continuous PAN-based Carbon Fibre Pilot Production. Testing of laminates and prepregs produced based on the newly developed carbon fibres followed by manufacturing of laminates/coupons and high-performance filament wound tubes are also foreseen (equipment for delivering precise volumes the matrix (resin) in high and low-capacity to impregnate the fibres and bundles will be developed). The project also targets functionalisation and will be mainly focus on cost reduction, mechanical and chemical property improvement. Novel CF precursors will be developed (e.g. textile-grade PAN, polyolefins, and lignin); in parallel, the suitability of a new environmentally friendly pitch will be assessed, obtained from anthracene oil, for the preparation of isotropic carbon fibres. The project’s carbon fibre conversion technology will use the pyrolysis process to convert PAN precursor fibre into PAN-based carbon fibre and activated carbon fibre. As for recycling and use of recycled CFs, new techniques will be used to provide commercially-relevant products that are manufactured from waste carbon fibres. Mathematical modelling will be conducted to determine properties of CFs and composites, together with cost modelling; life cycle assessment and this will assist in determining possible commercial risks that will be continuously estimated during the project. The project will also quantify/assess the environmental impact of the materials that will be used. The industrial partners will help to ensure the impact of the research efforts, convincingly proving scalability towards industrial needs of two high demanding applications, namely medium technology – large scale (Rapid Deployment Secure Emergency Shelter (RDSES)) and high technology – small scale (supercapacitor), which will have significant impact on EU market providing fundamental know-how in terms of high ended value CF products.

A unique aspect of this project is the fact that the precise compositions of the precursors and the processing routes will be known and defined by the relevant partner. Moreover, the detailed characterisation techniques will enable direct cross-correlation to be established between the precursor chemistry, processing routes and the resultant mechanical properties. Therefore, the consortium will be in a position to optimise the composition and the processing routes to obtain high-modulus and high-strength carbon fibres via pre-alignment of the polymer chains, retention of chain alignment during controlled thermal treatment is specified gaseous environments. The various characterisation tests proposed will also enable the consortium to investigate in depth, the effects of composition and processing conditions on the development of internal and surface flaws; in addition to the degree of crystallinity, the nature and the distribution of flaws will dictate the mechanical properties of the fibres. It is envisaged that in the first instance, the laboratory-based fibres will be equivalent to those from commercial sources. However, the consortium will be in a position to establish correlation between the precursor chemistry, the processing strategies and the resultant mechanical and surface properties of the carbon fibres.

Mechanical properties of these samples (tensile strength, modulus of elasticity, etc) will be investigated. Furthermore, composites will be produced from these materials and their tensile, flexural strength and interlaminar shear strength will be investigated. These data will be analyzed and optimal compositions and technological regimes for production of composites on the special panels from modified carbon plastics which will simulate the elements of real constructions will be determined. The special attention will be paid on the electro conducting properties for various directions and the influence of modification by special electroconducting particles on the properties of the whole composite. On the base of such type of investigation the practical recommendations for the use of modified carbon fibres and polymer binders in composites to be used in typical elements of constructions for space and rocket equipment.

Oxidative   stabilization   is   the cross-linking phase that comes just before carbonization. Oxidative stabilization is the bottleneck in the production process often requiring 90 to 120 minutes. By developing a 2-3X faster oxidation process, higher throughput and significant cost reduction can be achieved. Atmospheric pressure plasma oxidation allows to reduce the timescale 2-3 times at room temperature. Testing of combination temperature-time will allow optimizing this step in terms of financial and energy costs. The use of atmospheric plasma for functionalisation, apart from the intrinsic advantages of the techniques (higher plasma density, shorter treatment times, and no vacuum pumps) compared to vacuum plasma ones will allow to:

- complete the step in much shorter time

- reduce the installation costs

- have   similar   apparatuses   for   both   stabilization   and functionalisation steps, with advantages in terms of people training, maintenance

A number of gases and mixtures will be tested for functionalisation including oxygen, argon, nitrogen, etc. Tuning of time and temperature will allow controlling the effect of the process. For instance too short an   exposure time will not fully functionalise the surface, but a too large one will lead to decomposition, affecting the functionalisation yield and local mechanical properties. In order to better control functionalisation   and   also   to   improve roughness cycles of short pulse will be used. Appropriate sequences in terms of power and time will be identified to maximize functionalisation efficiency while increasing   roughness.   It   has   to   be   noted, that a high surface, although being critical for bare CF, is not so for a functionalised   surface, as linking is provided by functionalised sites.

 

Objectives at a glance:

 

 

Manufacturing of composites with high-performance and high-strength suitable for use as components in industry for advanced applications

 


Expected final results and potential impacts

FIBRALSPEC project joins together a balanced consortium of SME, Industries and RTDs. As it is correctly stated in the Call for Proposals, carbon fibre applications risk being restricted or jeopardised because of the high cost of carbon fibres and their limited supply. Moreover, the translation of fibre properties into those of the final composite is not yet fully understood. Research is therefore needed to allow the opening of new ways for the industrial production in Europe of carbon fibres as well as their functionalisation for targeted applications, and at affordable cost.

Technical Impact: The importance of the EU to be self-sufficient in carbon fibres cannot be over emphasised. Whilst the aerospace and defence sectors can setup long-term purchasing contracts with suppliers (most of whom are outside the EU), SMEs cannot do the same and they are at the mercy of price fluctuations. The unique aspects of this project are: (i) The consortium will have intimate knowledge about the precursor chemistry and the processing conditions that are used. This will enable the consortium to tailor the interface as required for specified matrices and end-use applications. It is generally appreciated that the nature of the interface will dictate the general properties of composites. (ii) An intimate knowledge of the precursors and the analytical techniques that will be used to characterise the conversion of the precursor at every stage of production will enable a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms associated with the chemical conversion processes from the precursor to the fibre. The consortium will also be able to study the cause-and-effect associated with internal and surface flaws. (iii) The intimate knowledge of the starting materials will enable pragmatic and cost-effective strategies to be specified for the reuse and recycling strategies for each waste-stream, as opposed to concentrating of the recycling of the recovered fibres from the composite. Finally, (iv) the investigation into bio-based precursors will set the standard for moving away from the reliance of petroleum-based precursors.

Economic impact: The economic impact of FIBRALSPEC will be to enhance the competitiveness and the exports of the European industry, especially of participating SMEs, by defining new international standards in the area of CFs. The increase of employment of high qualified personnel is also expected since new lines of the knowledge-rich products will be launched.

 

The technology has clear market potential and will have a strong impact on the economic prospects the SME participants via two routes:

The FIBRALSPEC proposal well addresses all the impacts listed in the work programme of the Call. The project aims in increase of competitive power of European CF sector and especially that of the industrial partners. Industrial partners are more sensitive in the conditions of growing competitiveness because of the limited resources and access to modern RTD facilities.

Environmental impacts: 1.Replacement of less environmental-friendly technologies with more intelligent systems with environmental friendliness. (Expected in < 5 years) 2. Reducing of material waste losses due to reliability and in-service performance of components and reduced corrosion/degradation activity. (Expected in 5-10 years) 3. Safer working conditions (Expected in < 5 years) 4. CO2 emission reduction due to savings in materials/recycling for precursors, CFs, composites (Expected in < 5 years).

Social impacts: Within the area of Humanitarian aid the issue of protection of vulnerable people in disasters worldwide is critical. A number of disasters are made even worse by the inability to protect the survivors from the weather and more seriously from looters etc. The widespread use of a safe sleeping area that could be secured from within at night would add to the well being of people that have to live in temporary accommodation for long terms. Tents are not safe as long term dwellings and that cannot withstand severe weather events. The RDSES design and manufacturing process also could develop onsite manufacture right in the heart of the affected territories using containerised factories. This will allow a sustainable programme of production using local labour, local resources where available and therefore stimulating local economic activity. With a predicted life expectancy in excess of twenty five years, the RDSES unit is a unique, long term and re-usable transitional shelter system option. It has evolved to incorporate core values of affordability, easy installation, comfort and security for the end-user, ease of maintenance, resistance to adverse weather conditions, cost efficient transportation and trouble free storage.

 

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