The University of Manchester is partnering with the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials (BIAM) to develop aerospace applications for graphene. A focus of the work will be development of graphene-reinforced aluminum matrix composites, an area in which BIAM has advanced the state of research. The Institute has synthesized graphene-reinforced aluminum matrix nanocomposites through a ball milling and powder metallurgy, enhancing their tensile and yield strengths by adding graphene nanoflakes without impeding their ductility.

NGI researchers hope to switch the carbon fiber in airplane wings with graphene. Image credit: University of Manchester.NGI researchers hope to switch the carbon fiber in airplane wings with graphene. Image credit: University of Manchester.NGI researchers hope to switch the carbon fiber in airplane wings with graphene. Image credit: University of Manchester.Graphene, an electrically conductive form of elemental carbon, comprises a single flat sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a repeating hexagonal lattice. At one atom thick, it is one of the thinnest materials possible, yet is 200 times stronger than steel, and is flexible, transparent and can act as a barrier.

The University of Manchester has organized the National Graphene Institute (NGI) to advance research into the material and the development and commercialization of applications.

NGI is launching several projects to develop aerospace applications for graphene, including:

  • Using it to improve the plastic that holds together the carbon fiber within the wings. Incorporating graphene could help prevent water from entering the wings, which adds weight to the aircraft.
  • Measuring the strain in the wings to determine whether any damage has occurred.
  • Substituting lightweight graphene for the copper wiring and copper heating coils used to prevent ice buildup up on the wings.

NGI researchers are also looking at switching the carbon fiber used in the construction of airplane wings for graphene. This project could take 20 years or more.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com