The project is being undertaken by Quickstep’s German subsidiary, Quickstep GmbH.

The total budget for the project is approximately US$10 million, with Quickstep GmbH receiving up to US$445 000 from the European Commission under its Seventh Framework Programme.

Nanotechnology benefits

The project is investigating the introduction of carbon nanotubes into the host composite material. It is believed that this could lead to improved properties including enhanced electrical conductivity and inter-laminar strength.

Electrical conductivity is a key challenge in the aerospace industry. Aircraft must have protection against electromagnetic interference and lightning strikes, but because of the relatively low conductivity of traditional carbon fibre materials composite aerospace parts need to be covered with a metallic ‘mesh.’ This adds to the weight of the aircraft structure (around 900 kg for a modern Airbus or Boeing aircraft) without making any structural contribution.

Carbon nanotubes have been found to dramatically increase the electrical conductivity of composite materials. This could mean mean that the metallic mesh could be thinner or removed altogether.

The train industry also requires improved electrical conductivity to provide insulation against electrostatic load, lightning strikes and damaged overhead electricity cables falling onto a rail car.

The research project will evaluate the manufacture of composite materials infused with carbon nanotubes, with a sole focus on out-of-autoclave composite manufacturing technologies, such as the Quickstep Process.

Project partners

The research project is being completed by an alliance of 16 different organisations, including research institutes, SME suppliers and multi-national industrial transport end-users. Participants include:

  • the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Company (EADS);
  • SLCA, a subsidiary of the SAFRAN Group which undertakes design and manufacture of composite parts for airliners, regional aircraft, business jets and helicopters;
  • Alstom, a leading provider of rolling stock and rail transport infrastructure;
  • the University of Cambridge and the University of London in the UK, and the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; and
  • enigeering company Coexpair, which will act as the project manager.

The work is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.