University of South Alabama and MHP enter into research partnership for plastic composites

Dr. Sebastian Kirmse (left), involved in research into the composite material, and Tobias Hoffmeister (right), President and CEO of MHP Americas Inc. Image rights: MHP

Professor Kuang-Ting Hsiao’s group at the University of South Alabama (Atlanta) recently developed ZT-CFK, an innovative plastic composite enriched with nanoparticles and reinforced with carbon fibers, originally funded by NASA. Funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the university has set up a research partnership to fully exploit the potential of the advanced composite material and ensure that ZT-CFRP is quickly available to a broader market.

In addition to the University of South Alabama, five companies from different industries are involved in the partnership, including MHP (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), Porsche Motorsports (California, USA), UST Mamiya (Fort Worth, Texas, USA), Hexcel Corp. (Stamford, Connecticut, USA) and Toray Composite Materials America (Tacoma, Washington, USA). MHP will play a key role in this collaboration by working closely with the university to support the development of a roll-to-roll production process for ZT-CFRP that enables low-cost production of large quantities of the material. The aim of the project is to bring ZT-CFRP onto the market by 2024.

“Our colleague Dr. Sebastian Kirmse wrote his dissertation at the University of South Alabama and during this time he was involved in research into this new, exciting composite material “, explains Tobias Hoffmeister, President and CEO of MHP Americas Inc.” When Sebastian came to MHP in early 2020, he informed us about the new technology and involved us. We were all convinced from the start that the composite material had great potential. “

The plastic composite enriched with specifically oriented nanoparticles and reinforced with carbon fibers should have a number of properties that set it apart from other composite materials of this group. Carbon nanofibers are threaded in a zigzag between the conventional carbon fibers, creating a fabric in which the mechanical, electrical and thermal loads in the composite are distributed in all directions, which significantly increases the conductivity of the material (especially orthogonal to the fiber direction). This means that ZT-CFRP is not only lighter than aluminum and tougher than steel, but also significantly less susceptible to mechanical forces such as impact damage than conventional carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP).

ZT-CFRP will be available in both prepreg roll and thin resin film form, which can be used to optimize traditional prepreg materials or bond two materials with improved mechanical, thermal, and electrical bond and durability.

ZT-CFRP is also intended to open up a wide range of applications, from automobiles to aerospace to sports such as golf. “With cars, for example, we constantly try to ensure a high level of safety for passengers while reducing weight and thus energy consumption,” explains Dr. Sebastian Kirmse. “ZT-CFRP could replace aluminum as the material of choice for the chassis. This was not possible with conventional carbon fiber reinforced plastics, especially with thermally elevated parts. ”The new composite could also be used in spacecraft in a similar way. In addition, golf clubs should become lighter and more powerful with the material. Dr. Sebastian Kirmse goes on to explain that due to its multifunctional properties, the material offers an expanded spectrum of possible uses, which is being researched in the project together with the partners.

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