Lighter, stronger aeroplanes thanks to new hybrid thermoplastic composites

Aviation is set to reach new heights thanks to a novel plastic which is tougher, weighs less and is cheaper to construct, developed by the University of Bath.


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The NHYTE (New Hybrid Thermoplastic Composite Aerostructures manufactured by Out of Autoclave Continuous Automated Technologies) project has received €5.2m of Horizon 2020 funding and brings together the expertise of several academic and industrial partners from across the EU.

The NHYTE project, led at Bath by Professor Michele Meo alongside Dr Francesco Ciampa and Dr Fulvio Pinto in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, aims to develop an innovative multifunctional composite which is both easier to manufacture and higher in mechanical performance.

In comparison to current material used on aeroplane wings and other components, this new multilayer material is structurally stronger and is simpler to process, particularly the shorter time it takes to manufacture and the reduced energy associated with the manufacturing process.

As a result of reducing energy, the project aims to also reduce associated Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxide emissions from less energy intensive manufacturing process as well as directly from flying due to lighter and more efficient aeroplanes.

Holiday-goers and regular flyers are expected to benefit from an overall increase in aviation safety as a result of this material performing better, health benefits due to cleaner air through reduced emissions, and eventually cheaper ticket prices as airline companies pass down their own cost savings as a result of this innovative new material.

The high-performing material proposed in the NHYTE project is based on a commercial PEEK-Carbon Fibre Prepreg with the addition of amorphous (PEI) films. It answers to the needs to have reduced weight and consequently reduced fuel consumptions and emissions on an aircraft, as well as reduced manufacturing and operational costs.

Currently, such innovative materials have been limited to being produced at just a laboratory level, but the NHYTE research team are aiming to identify and implement a suitable manufacturing process which can be up-scaled to an industrial level.

Professor Michele Meo in the University of Bath’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said:

“This innovative material, conceived and patented by a partner of the Consortium, is an example of multifunctional composite, since it returns both functions of toughness improvement and process simplification.

This concept on one side will provide an advantage in terms of better impact damage performance. On the other side, major advantages will result on processing simplification, in particular including improved cycle times and lower energy consumptions. The technological advances of NHYTE will also reflect in higher inspection quality of aerospace composite components and therefore an increase of safety.”