AIM Altitude has collaborated with Composites Evolution and Sheffield Hallam University on an research and development project backed by Innovate UK.

Concluding in August 2020, the collaboration has sought to develop a nanocomposite material with exceptional fire and mechanical performance, suitable for use in aircraft interior applications.

The team has developed a unique thermosetting resin system, a blend of polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA) with a specific additive mix, for the production of glass fibre pre-pregs using a hot-melt process.  The PFA resin base is produced from biomass waste, which has a mature, secure, low-cost supply, and does not compete with food production so is completely sustainable. The composite is similar to phenolic, but without the toxic phenol and formaldehyde compounds, making it safer across the whole product lifecycle.

Vernon Thomas, Engineering Manager at AIM Composites, said: “Materials and design options for composites in fire-critical applications are currently very limited. The nanocomposites we have developed have led to enhanced performance all round. It is a better, safer product, which is bio-based and renewable. The fire, smoke and toxicity (FST) performance is better than phenolics. The reduced porosity has great advantages for the finish, reducing costs considerably, and peel strength improvement gives vital increases to integrity and durability. All of which offers airlines greater opportunities for differentiation.”

The resulting cured pre-pregs have been tested at AIM Altitude’s facilities in Cambridgeshire and have shown substantially better fire properties than current phenolic pre-pregs. The surface finish is also superior, which in itself will substantially reduce downstream costs in defect rectification and preparation for decoration. The enhanced fire properties will permit the use of some decorative finishes not currently available for commercial aircraft interiors.

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