Clemson University’s Amod Ogale, who has been working for more than 30 years to create lightweight composite materials, has received $2 million to collaborate with the Center for Composite Materials at University of Delaware (UD-CCM) on how to lower the cost of high-tech materials in airplanes and luxury cars. These materials have made planes and cars more fuel efficient.

The objective of the research is to make a low-cost feedstock – the raw material that goes into composite materials – and develop a new manufacturing process.  Researchers hope to create a new type of composite material they will call “TuFF,” which stands for Tailorable universal Feedstock for Forming.

The feedstock will consist of carbon fiber in a thermoplastic matrix with an improved microstructural design, creating thin ply sheets that Clemson says will “optimize formability of single and doubly curved parts with aerospace grade mechanical properties and damage tolerance.”

According to Ogale and his team, the new material could revolutionize the use of composite materials worldwide by providing a cost-effective replacement for small metal parts that meet aerospace performance requirements.

Ogale plans to use his expertise in working with carbon fibers on a microscopic level to generate a new type of microtexture in the fibers. The diameter of each carbon fiber is one-tenth that of a human hair, yet the fiber is three times stronger than steel.

“We will help the team understand how the molecular structure and processing conditions will influence the microstructure and strength of the resulting carbon fibers,” Ogale said.

Jack Gillespie, the director of the UD-CCM, is leading the team. Researchers from Drexel University and Virginia Tech are also collaborating on the project.

“UD­CCM is excited to lead a team of composite experts from Clemson University, Drexel University and Virginia Tech to develop a new composite material and manufacturing process,” said Rob Adkinson, who is the TuFF program manager at the University of Delaware. “Bypassing all of the manufacturing problems associated with advanced composites, our approach will allow us for the first time to make composite parts having aerospace properties at automotive prices.”