With funding from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation funded by a grant from the UK government, a team of researchers from AIM Altitude, Composites Evolution Limited, and Sheffield Hallam University developed a unique thermosetting resin system to be used in aircraft interior parts. The resin is a blend of polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA) with an additive mix for the production of glass fiber prepregs using a hot-melt process.

The PFA resin base is produced from biomass waste which is readily available at a low-cost and is sustainable. As a result, the nanocomposite material created is safer and cleaner across the product’s lifetime, offering excellent mechanical properties similar to phenolic, but without the toxic phenol and formaldehyde compounds.

In testing, the prepregs exhibit substantially better fire properties than currently used phenolic prepregs. Of interest to commercial aircraft interior designers, the surface finish is outstanding and will permit the use of some new decorative finishes while maintaining the fire-resistant properties.

Vernon Thomas, engineering manager at AIM Composites, said, “Materials and design options for composites in fire-critical applications are currently very limited. The nanocomposites we have developed have led to enhanced performance all round. It is a better, safer product, which is bio-based and renewable. The fire, smoke, and toxicity (FST) performance is better than phenolics. The reduced porosity has great advantages for the finish, reducing costs considerably, and peel strength improvement gives vital increases to integrity and durability. All of which offer airlines greater opportunities for differentiation.”

The success of this project is a significant development for the use of nanocomposite materials in the aerospace industry. Dr Brendon Weager, technical director of Composites Evolution, explained, “Working with Sheffield Hallam University and AIM Altitude has given us the opportunity to fully explore our new product ideas. The nanocomposite solution we have developed has so many improved features it will redefine composites capabilities.”