Haydale Composite Solutions (HCS) entered into a collaborative 18-month research project with Cobham plc and SHD Composites Ltd to develop a composite material that can withstand an aircraft lightning strike. The project will be funded by a £150,000 grant from the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP).

Carbon fiber has been used extensively in aircraft. However, because carbon fiber epoxy composite materials are, by themselves, poor conductors of electricity, they have been prone to significant lightning damage. As a result, many aircraft companies have turned to copper and aluminum, which conduct more electricity, but add significant weight and cost.

This research will develop a solution by developing highly electrically conductive epoxy resins using alternate forms of graphene. This will create a highly conductive carbon fiber reinforced epoxy composite material. The new composite material will help eliminate metallic meshes to create safer aircraft, while reducing weight and costs from competing materials.

“We are very excited about developing highly conductive carbon fibre reinforced epoxy composite materials and structures, which require no additional parasitic lightning strike protection,” said HCS Managing Director Gerry Boyce. “The ability to add graphene to change one of the fundamental characteristics of the base resin, in this case, electrical conductivity, is a most important development for composite engineers and could lead to a whole new generation of graphene-enhanced composite materials.”

Cobham plc will consult on lightning strike testing, SHD Composites Ltd will supply the carbon fiber reinforced epoxy resin pre-impregnated fabric, and HCS’ “HDPlas” process will be used to develop the graphene enhanced epoxy resins for the project.

The collaborative agreement also has significant economic implications in the UK.

“It is particularly pleasing to assist [HCS] with a practical application that uses the exciting properties of graphene in the aerospace industry,” said NATEP Deputy Programme Director Bridget Day. “We see this as having a high potential for jobs growth and exports.”