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Press Release - 18 May 2005

Composite materials helping improve efficiency of air travel and renewable energy

Composite materials helping improve efficiency of air travel and renewable energy A new generation of construction materials that will make air travel more environmentally-friendly and further improve the efficiency of renewable energy production is being developed at the universities of Bath and Plymouth.

Composite materials are stronger but much lighter than traditional materials - such as steel and aluminium - and are already being used in an increasing number of applications, including turbine blades in wind farms and parts of the new Airbus A380.

“Currently about 15-20 per cent of an aircraft structure is made from lightweight carbon fibre composite material,” said Dr Richard Butler, senior lecturer in aircraft structures at the University of Bath.

“This gives an overall weight saving of around 30 per cent which is very significant when you consider that for every ton of weight that is saved, there are up to 3,000 tons of fuel saved over the life of the aircraft.”

Working with engineers at Airbus, Dr Butler and colleagues are enhancing the design and manufacturing process for carbon fibre composites so that entire aircraft wing structures made out of these weight-saving materials.

The researchers are also developing composite materials that can be made to change shape in flight to make better use of flying conditions and to replace the heavy mechanical parts used in flaps.

“Specially designed and layered composite laminates combined with shape changing electrical devices can make a structure such as an aircraft wing change shape from one position to another – rather like a bird’s wing,” said Dr Butler.

"Through inducing wing shape change we can optimise wing performance throughout the aircraft flight.”

As composites are also corrosion resistant, they are an ideal durable material for use in turbine blades in wind farms.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth’s Advanced Composites Manufacturing Centre (ACMC) have developed an innovatory resin infusion process for Vestas Technology UK, one of the three leading suppliers of wind turbines globally.

In this process dry reinforcement and core materials are laid into a single mould tool and the air is then drawn out to create a vacuum which then draws the resin in. This process creates composites that are highly flexible to work with and ideally suited for large structures.

Julian Spooner, ACMC project leader explained, “This innovative technology has halved Vestas manufacturing time for 40 metre wind turbine blades from 48 hours for traditional hand laminated composite blades to 24 hours through resin infusion.

“To install this technology within Vestas we have led a long term training programme, training their engineers and shop floor staff in these cutting edge techniques, giving the company a real edge in the market.”

Wind farms would be considerably less viable without composite materials which demonstrate lightness and strength, corrosion resistance and durability, delivering reliability and efficiency even in the most hostile environments.

The research is highlighted in a video news release by Research TV as part of the Video SouthWest project supported by the South West Regional Development Agency’s Inspire South West initiative.


All stories are available to all APTN subscribers with script information and video previews at For more information call Research TV on: +44 (0) 207 004 7130

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