The extremely sturdy yet lightweight carbon-fiber materials used to build airplanes and spacecraft require a whole lot of energy to produce, which, in turn, creates a lot of emissions.
The good news MIT engineers have recently figured out a way to create these aerospace-grade composites using only one percent of the energy of current methods.
Currently, creating carbon-fiber composites requires cooking materials in giant ovens and sucking any air bubbles out in autoclaves – industrial pressure chambers. This process only happens once the materials are molded into the shape of a fuselage or other required part, necessitating warehouse-size facilities.
The MIT researchers’ technique does away with the need for these ovens and autoclaves and potentially speeds the whole process up. They initially succeeded with the out-of-oven (OoO) technique — which requires wrapping the materials in ultra-thin carbon nanotube sheets and then applying an electric current to heat them up — in 2015. Now they have perfected this process by sandwiching a thin film of specially aligned carbon nanotubes between the layers of materials. When heated up, this filling draws the materials towards each other and squeezes out any voids.
The process is all very technical, but the big takeaway is that a much greener way to create these highly important materials has been discovered.