Troy, N.Y. A new research discovery at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could lead to tougher, more durable composite frames for aircraft, watercraft, and automobiles.
Epoxy composites are increasingly being incorporated into the design of new jets, planes, and other vehicles. Composite material frames are extremely lightweight, which lowers the overall weight of the vehicle and boosts fuel efficiency. The downside is that epoxy composites can be brittle, which is detrimental to its structural integrity.
Professor Nikhil Koratkar, of Rensselaer's Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, has demonstrated that incorporating chemically treated carbon nanotubes into an epoxy composite can significantly improve the overall toughness, fatigue resistance, and durability of a composite frame.
When subjected to repetitive stress, a composite frame infused with treated nanotubes exhibited a five-fold reduction in crack growth rate as compared to a frame infused with untreated nanotubes, and a 20-fold reduction when compared to a composite frame made without nanotubes.
This newfound toughness and crack resistance is due to the treated nanotubes, which enhance the molecular mobility of the epoxy at the interface where the two materials touch. When stressed, this enhanced mobility enables the epoxy to craze or result in the formation of a network of pillar-like fibers that bridge together both sides of the crack and slow its growth.
"This crazing behavior, and the bridging fibers it produces, dramatically slows the growth rate of a crack," Koratkar said. "In order for the crack to grow, those fibers have to first stretch, deform plastically, and then break. It takes a lot of energy to stretch and break those fibers, energy that would have otherwise gone toward enlarging the crack."
Results of the study were published this week in the journal Small.
Epoxy composites infused wit
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute