Composites Today

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New research on composite material with ‘infinite’ shelf-life

Dr Gary Foster, technical fellow, Dr Clara Frias, head of the composite centre and Robyn Elliott, technical lead

Composite materials that can be recycled and reused “time and time again” will be the focus of new research and development at the University of Sheffield (UK) Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

With applications in aerospace and potential use in automotive and renewable energy, fibre reinforced thermoplastic tapes (FRTT) could “transform sustainability” in composite manufacturing, the AMRC said in an announcement. The facility’s new Multipurpose Fibre Reinforced Thermoplastic Tape Development Cell is funded by a £1.7m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

“With the drive towards net zero, manufacturers are looking for environmentally-friendly materials to save energy, reduce waste and improve efficiency. FRTT is an intermediate composite material which ticks all of these boxes,” the AMRC said.

Dr Gary Foster, technical fellow at the AMRC, said: “Thermoplastics take less energy to process than existing thermoset composites. They are easier to automate, easier to work with and easier to recycle. This intermediate composite material has an infinite shelf life because you can reheat it and remould it many times.”

FRTT is highly flexible and adaptable, the AMRC said, making it easier to make parts at exactly the right shape and size, leading to reduced waste. It can also be stored at room temperature, unlike existing thermosets which usually need to be kept in a refrigerator. 

There is increasing use of FRTT across many sectors with “huge potential” for growth, the announcement said. In aerospace, it has been used for small aeroplane parts and substructures, including clips and brackets. It could potentially be used for larger parts like wings.

In the automotive industry, the AMRC said there is interest in using it for door panels, wheel components and bulkheads. In the renewable energy sector, FRTT could be used to make turbine blades for offshore wind farms.

Findings from the cell will be available to researchers from other UK universities and major industrial partners such as Boeing and GKN, alongside the hundreds of smaller businesses the AMRC works with every year.