Solvay and SGL Carbon partner to create new composites for aerospace

Combining mechanical performance and cost efficiency, a new generation of prepregs for aircraft parts is under development through a high-level collaboration between Solvay and leading carbon fiber producer SGL Carbon.

It’s no news that composite materials are on a steady course to replace metal in airplanes. The necessity to curb emissions and therefore reduce the weight of aircraft is a pressing requirement that is only set to put increasing pressure on the aerospace industry in the years to come. But this is a slow and lengthy process, in part because of the cost of the high performance composite materials needed to make primary structure airplane parts such as wings, empennage and fuselage. 



Advanced materials for aerospace

Large-tow, lower cost, high performance carbon fiber

It’s with this problem in mind that Solvay’s business unit Composite Materials entered a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with German carbon fiber producer SGL Carbon, in order to “bring to market the first composite material based on large-tow intermediate modulus (IM) carbon fiber,” details Frank Nickisch, Product Manager at Solvay Composite Materials. SGL provides the carbon fiber, Solvay the primary structure resin system: “They had new carbon fiber developments to present, and we found their performances were very interesting,” continues Frank, “so we started discussing a collaboration.”

The idea was to combine the lower cost of large-tow carbon fiber (produced with a much higher number of filaments – in this case, 50K instead of the standard 12K or 24K – therefore with a higher throughput) with a mechanical performance profile that can meet the needs of the aerospace industry. “It’s more difficult to obtain demanding mechanical performance with a larger tow carbon fiber,” explains Frank, “but that’s what we aim to do by optimizing the interaction between the carbon fiber and the resin system. That’s where the novelty of this product resides.” 

Tackling aerospace’s need for composites

Developing new carbon fiber composite materials is the target of this high level collaboration between the two companies.

The reputation of SGL Carbon’s products is strongly established in industrial domains such as wind energy and automotive manufacturing, “but they needed a partner with the right capabilities in order to address the aerospace market,” says Frank. And Solvay is always looking to deepen collaborations with partners and suppliers in order to develop products that will better address its customers’ needs; so it was an ideal fit.

And this is only the beginning. At this point, aerospace manufacturers are initiating the screening process of these new composite materials in order to eventually use them in one of their programs. The era of the lightweight airplane is about to take another step forward.