Researchers from the University of state Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), have developed a new cost-effective method for producing thermosetting polymers and reinforced polymer composite products promising for industrial applications, writes Geektimes with reference to the publication Nature.
This method can be used to produce materials such as composite panels for aircraft fuselages, spending 10 times less energy than modern industrial production technologies. At the same time, new polymers and composites have comparable properties — strength, thermal stability, bending resistance and chemical resistance.
Modern methods of producing high-quality thermosetting polymers require the use of an autoclave, which is necessary for solidification of the monomer. The use of the autoclave is quite energy-intensive (about 180 °C for several hours and reduce pressure), limits the size of the by the size of the autoclave and requires certain financial investments. According to the researchers, the traditional production of a small part of the Boeing 787 fiber-reinforced composite fuselage requires 96,000 kilowatt-hours of electric energy (annual consumption of 9 dwelling houses).
To simplify the process, the researchers turned to the increasingly popular front-line polymerization reaction. In front-line polymerization, the solution of the monomer and initiator is heated locally until the initiator is activated, which will lead to monomer polymerization. Heat released from the polymerization reaction will trigger the next initiator activation cycle-polymerization of the monomer down to the depletion of the reagents. The name of the process was due to the rapid advance of the line (front) of the reaction through the thickness of the monomer.
The DCPD monomer can be polymerized into a thermosetting product in 30 minutes during the heating. Further optimization of the conditions allowed us to find alkylphosphite inhibitors and expanded the polymerization range from 30 minutes to 30 hours. Frontal polymerization of DCPD results in highly efficient cross-linked thermosetting polydicyclopentadiene (pDCPD) polymers or polymer composites.
Now researchers are trying to get a patent and find ways to commercialize the development.