Stronger, lighter, tougher. Deakin researcher creating better carbon fibre for the future

17 June 2014

A Deakin University researcher is using "clever chemistry" to change carbon fibre surfaces, in a bid to make materials stronger and lighter with better crash-resistance.

A Deakin University researcher is using "clever chemistry" to change carbon fibre surfaces, in a bid to make materials stronger and lighter with better crash-resistance.

Linden Servinis, who presented last month at the Australian finals of the FameLab/Science In Publiccompetition, is using chemistry techniques to add "chemical arms" to sections of the fibre surface previously thought to be unreactive.

Carbon fibre composites are solid materials made up of weaved carbon fibres covered in a layer of plastic resin. Ms Servinis said when these materials were subjected to high impact, the fibres often pulled away from the resin which caused failure.

"This research seeks to prevent composite failure by adding new chemical arms with reactive chemical hands at the ends. These hands can then grab onto the resin in a chemical reaction, and prevent failure, making a stronger material," Ms Servinis said.

"Carbon fibre composites are looking to be the next "aluminium", with incredibly strong and light-weight properties they have incredible potential to maximise fuel efficiency."

Ms Servinis said recent interest in large-scale production of carbon fibre for automotive and aerospace had highlighted the importance of investigating the interaction between fibre and resin to maximise composite performance.

"This and other research at Deakin is providing a better understanding of the subtle molecular interactions which can have a large impact on composite performance" Ms Servinis said.

"Current carbon fibre production includes an electrolytic oxidation process which introduces oxygen functional groups to the surface, and roughens the fibre which improves bonding between fibre and resin.

"While the oxidation helps bonding, it does not introduce the "reactive chemical hands" which can hold onto the resin layer the same way our chemical arms can."

Ms Servinis, whose project is part of a PhD she is undertaking with Deakin's cutting-edge newly-opened $34 million Carbon Nexus research facility, said not only had three separate chemistry techniques been shown to effectively graft these arms onto the surface, but could also be designed to react specifically with each resin system chosen.

A combination of X-ray Photoelectron spectroscopy, single fibre testing, and Single Fibre Fragmentation techniques are used to validate each new technique, to ensure chemistry doesn't degrade the fibres, while improving performance.
The research is in its early stages of lab-scale optimisation and has the potential to transition to the Carbon Nexus single-tow line.

Ms Servinis said the research was part of a collaboration with the Australian Future Fibres Research and innovation Centre and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

She said her presentation as a finalist at the FameLab competition which is designed to find, develop and mentor young science and engineering communicators, provided a valuable national platform to articulate the benefit of carbon fibre research.

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