Lighter, more fuel-efficient cars are closer to reality thanks to Australian researchers who are giving carbon fibre the gripping power it needs to be able to stand up to motoring impacts.
High-performance vehicles already use carbon fibre, a strong and lightweight material which can be moulded into complex shapes.
But although strong, carbon fibre is prone to damage from sudden impact and, unlike metal, it has to be replaced and not repaired.
Linden Servinis, a doctoral student at Deakin University in Victoria, and her colleagues have developed a treatment for carbon fibre which makes it 16% stronger by forming extra chemical arms that grip onto its surroundings, allowing the material to withstand greater impacts.
“The carbon fibre composite materials we work with are made of black hair-like carbon fibres weaved together and coated in hard plastic,” says Linden.
“They’re extremely light-weight and stronger than steel, but in the event of impact damage, like in a car crash, the individual fibres break free of the plastic and the strength is lost.
“But we’ve found a way to help the fibres hold together. We’ve given them extra chemical arms to grab on to each other and hold on to their plastic casing.”
By creating a less damage-prone material, Linden hopes to increase the likelihood of wider carbon fibre uptake by the automotive industry.
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