Makers of cars, planes, buses – anything that needs strong, lightweight and heat-resistant parts – are poised to benefit from a new manufacturing process that requires only a quick touch from a small heat source to send a cascading hardening wave through a polymer. Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new polymer-curing process that could reduce the cost, time and energy needed, compared with the current manufacturing process.
The findings reported in Nature, state that the new polymerization process uses 10 orders of magnitude less energy and can cut two orders of magnitudes of time over the current manufacturing process. “This development marks what could be the first major advancement to the high-performance polymer and composite manufacturing industry in almost half a century,” said aerospace engineering professor and lead author Scott White.
“The materials used to create aircraft and automobiles have excellent thermal and mechanical performance, but the fabrication process is costly in terms of time, energy and environmental impact,” White said. “One of our goals is to decrease expense and increase production.”
Take, for example, aircraft assembly. For one major U.S. producer, the process of curing just one section of a large commercial airliner can consume over 96,000 kilowatt-hours of energy and produce more than 80 tons of CO2, depending on the energy source, White said. That is roughly the amount of electricity it takes to supply nine average homes for one year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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