MITO is currently working with a large, national semi-trailer manufacturer that is transitioning from a combination of steel and composite trailers to fiber-reinforced composite trailers. “They’re able to shed about 35% of the trailers’ original weight just by moving to an all-composites floor and sidewalls,” Kevin Keith explains. “The problem with the esters is that they don’t have the same wear properties as the metals; even the custom formulations from their resin supplier wouldn’t meet specs.”

The manufacturer is currently testing FRP components made with the functionalized graphene. The results have been promising so far, and the manufacturer may eventually be able to transition to an all-composite trailer.

“Assuming just half the U.S. fleet adopts this significantly lighter trailer, which has the same load capacity, it would save $12 billion in fuel each year and save 57 million metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere,” Keith says.

Optimized for Every Application

Calculating the right amount of graphene to include in a composite material is a balancing act. While a certain percentage of graphene might provide optimal mechanical properties to a composite material, a higher percentage may be required if the customer wants to take advantage of its electrical properties as well.

“We have to work with customers quite closely to find a solution, and we often have to make compromises. You have to optimize each system one by one,” Hodge says. Versarien has developed a large database of how graphene works with various polymers that can help customers determine how well the nanomaterial would work for their application.

MITO has developed similar reference materials. “What we found missing for graphene was a bridge into composites. Clients need to understand how graphene is going to interact and integrate into different host materials, what properties and challenges they can expect or what they can solve for within these different polymers,” says Keith.

Adoption Across Industries

Graphene is not a miracle additive; adding it to a composite won’t automatically solve every problem that a manufacturer has with a particular composite component. But as more graphene materials become available at different price points and with different capabilities, and as composites manufacturers and their customers become more knowledgeable about the material, graphene will likely become a more common element in the manufacturing mix. In the aircraft industry, for example, graphene’s high conductivity could enable manufacturers to use it for sensors.