Dagher discovered that combining steel and composites could result in a cost effective and durable container. “We didn’t use exotic fibers or resins. We developed a product that would meet the environment in which it would operate,” he says. “The main surface area, like an envelope, is composites. If someone looked at it from the outside, they would have to penetrate composites to get in.”

Georgia Tech began working on embedding sensors into the composite design, which required slight modifications to connect the grid, instead of the former wall paper approach. One of the most important modifications was allowing the sensory system, made of a conductive mesh, to be able withstand high temperatures during the manufacturing of the composite panels.

The universities hope to have the container ISO certified by the end of 2010 and are optimistic about its future use in all types of shipping. Dagher explains that an initial cost increase could be a deterrence, but “Steel lasts only 10 to 15 years, whereas composites are lighter, more corrosion resistant and therefore can last longer,” he says. “Because of the reduction in weight, more material can be shipped in the composite containers and they can be used for a longer period of time. With revenue from increased shipment sizes and maintenance container shipment size, the container could potentially pay for itself in two to three years.”

Composite Material Also a Charger

Researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) are leading a team, which includes industry partners such as Volvo and Advanced Composites Group, in developing a prototype material made of carbon fibers and a polymer resin that stores and discharges large amounts of energy more quickly than conventional batteries. The material is also strong and lightweight enough to be used for car parts.

According to the researchers, the material does not use chemical processes, making it quicker to recharge than conventional batteries and resulting in less degradation over time.

The group received funding from the British Ministry of Defense to explore the material. ICL wasn’t able to get this kind of funding when it began the project six months ago, but Emile Greenhalgh, ICL reader in composite materials and the project’s coordinator, says progress has advanced enough to where outside parties are now more interested. “We came up with a feasibility concept which resulted in the amount of energy to light an LED for 30 seconds. Right now, we’ve worked it up to where we can charge it for 10 seconds and it lights for 20 minutes.”