“If you’ve got an electric field flowing through your structure, and that electric field is interrupted because of impact damage or some internal damage, graphene’s conductive pathway can be used as a structural health monitoring sensor,” says Hodge. Versarien is also working with Airbus and other European partners to use graphene as an electrothermal heater for aircraft anti-icing and de-icing applications.

On the sustainability front, graphene could be useful in enhancing the properties of bio-derived composite materials. A small amount of graphene added to those composites could improve the usually lower performance of biomaterials, ultimately leading to significant reductions in carbon emissions.
Graphene could be included in mixes to produce fire-resistant coatings for composite components or to enhance the properties of shoes, fishing rods and golf clubs. Graphene composite pipes can cool more efficiently than pipes made with other materials, making them ideal for the oil, gas and similar industries.

Graphene also has another important advantage. “Whether it’s a thermoplastic or an epoxy system, graphene can be added in the liquid phase [of composite manufacturing] relatively easily, without changing the processes or requiring additional capital equipment,” Barkan says.

“I firmly believe that just like nickel is a standard ingredient in stainless steel and just like carbon black is a standard ingredient in tires, graphene will become a standard ingredient in advanced composites applications,” Barkan adds. By the end of the year, he expects some resin companies will offer resin systems that come preloaded with graphene.

“It will be provided as a premium grade, better performing product, and the manufacturers and the fabricators won’t have to do anything different,” says Barkan. “They will just get better composites.”

Mary Lou Jay is a freelance writer based in Timonium, Md. Email comments to mljay@comcast.net.