Composites Advance at Bristol

Composites are the materials of the future and are critical to reducing weight, energy consumption and the generation of CO2 in transport applications. Research at Bristol Composites Institute (ACCIS) at the University of Bristol, a newly created Specialist Research Institute (SRI), is delivering new technology and innovation through its research programmes, which will benefit future fuel emissions.

composites
Beene M'Membe, a PhD student in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science and Rolls-Royce supported Composites University Technology Centre (UTC) Image credit: University of Bristol

Composites used in many aerospace applications comprise of layers of carbon fibres, embedded in a polymer matrix material. The strength of such laminated composites in extreme loading situations encountered under high-speed impact can be enhanced by through-thickness reinforcement.

Beene M’Membe, a PhD student in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science and Rolls-Royce supported Composites University Technology Centre (UTC), has carried out research into novel through-thickness reinforcement (TTR). This followed on from new manufacturing methods for applying TTR that were previously developed by the UTC.  These are now being trialled by Rolls-Royce in its development programmes and are anticipated to be used in its Advance and UltraFan®designs, after being further developed at the National Composites Centre (NCC).

The Composites University Technology Centre (UTC) is at the forefront of supporting Rolls-Royce in its development of the next generation of fan blades and cases, made of carbon-fibre composite materials, for future aero-engines.

The Rolls-Royce Advance engine will offer at least 20 per cent better fuel burn and CO2emissions than the first generation of Trent engine and will provide the core architecture design for UltraFan® which will deliver a 25 per cent improvement from 2025. The blades and associated composite engine casings form part of the new carbon/titanium fan system that reduces weight by up to 1,500lbs per aircraft, the equivalent of carrying seven more passengers and their luggage.

Bristol Composites Institute (ACCIS) brings together research across the University in composite materials, which are crucially important for UK engineering companies to maintain international competitiveness.

Michael Wisnom, Director of ACCIS, Professor of Aerospace Structures in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and SRI academic lead, said: “Bristol Composites Institute (ACCIS) is at the forefront of future composite research and contributes significantly to increasing capacity in this strategically important area of science and innovation for the UK.

“One of our great strengths is our relationship with industry, exemplified by the Composites UTC supported by Rolls-Royce and our links with the National Composites Centre. Our Centre for Doctoral Training is playing a key role in teaching the next generation of composite engineers needed for Britain’s future.”

Advanced composite materials consist of reinforcement fibres, usually carbon or glass, embedded within a matrix, usually a polymer, providing a structural material. Alternative energy technologies such as wind power are rapidly developing and offer increasing opportunities for the use of advanced composites.

The construction of large aircraft is also becoming increasingly dependent on composites rather than metals, due to their combination of low weight and excellent material properties, which can be tailored to specific applications.  For the production of such aircraft to remain in this country, UK engineering has to rise to new design and manufacturing challenges.

The current UK composites sector has a value of £2.5 billion, providing the foundation for the country to become a world-class player in this rapidly progressing area.  It is projected to grow to between £6 billion and £12 billion by 2030.