Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are one of the new materials being used in transportation to make vehicles lighter in weight and thereby more fuel efficient. FRPs are made by combining tough plastics with strong fibers such as fiberglass or carbon to produce new materials that, like their metal counterparts, offer the advantages of light weight, corrosion resistance, and improved strength.
FPS are gaining traction in the automotive industry. As reported in Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Composites: The Light Weight Heavy Hitters, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy maintains that, at a lower cost, FRPs could reduce the weight of a passenger car by 50% and improve its fuel efficiency by about 35% without compromising performance or safety. Polymer Composites vs. Steel: The Race to Dominate the Automotive Industry explains that organizations including the U.S. DRIVE Partnership and the American Chemistry Council are investigating the use of plastics and other lightweight, high-performance materials in the automotive industry.
Reinforced Plastics reports that carbon fiber reinforced plastic has gained ground in the aerospace industry as well, with the Boeing B787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350XWB now made of half metal, half plastic. The 787 has an estimated 23 tons of carbon fiber content that includes the fuselage, center wing box, wing skins with integral stringers, raked wing tips, tail cone, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, control surfaces, internal pressure bulkheads, floor structure, certain engine parts and various fairings. Orders for the jet, one of the lightest aircraft for its size and capacity, totaled 1184 at the time the article was published (July/August 2015). Carbon fiber suppliers are scrambling to keep up with the demand.
The Airbus web site explains some of the benefits of composite materials:
Composite materials maximise weight reduction – as they typically are 20 per cent lighter than aluminium – and are known to be more reliable than other traditional metallic materials, leading to reduced aircraft maintenance costs, and a lower number of inspections during service. Additional benefits of composite technologies include added strength and superior durability for a longer lifespan…
Composites are corrosion-free, which lessens the quantity of chemicals necessary to protect structural components. The weight reductions from composites also result in lower fuel consumption during an aircraft’s operational lifetime.
More than 50 percent of the next-generation A350 XWB is made of composites, marking a significant milestone for aircraft production. This jetliner also represents the first Airbus aircraft that utilises a higher percentage of composite technologies than metallic applications. Its fuselage panels, frames, window frames, clips, and door are made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), with a hybrid door frame structure consisting of this material and titanium being used for the first time.
Plastic composites are made from a variety of materials that may be chemically modified to alter their properties and performance. Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) is a valuable polymer characterization tool for product design and manufacture. To learn more about the latest applications for FTIR, visit the FTIR Spectroscopy Academy.