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Properties Of Structural Composite Materials Using Novel Carbon Fibers



The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 5.4.c.(8) of the solicitation and within the AF Component-specific instructions. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws. Please direct questions to the AF SBIR/STTR Contracting Officer, Ms. Gail Nyikon,

OBJECTIVE: Improve mechanical properties of aerospace advanced composite materials using new and novel carbon fibers now available in pilot quantities. Demonstrate translation of these properties through fabrication and testing of a demonstration article.

DESCRIPTION: The US Air Force desires to improve properties of organic matrix composite (OMC) materials used in structural applications on high performance aircraft. While there have been significant advancements in matrix materials over the past twenty years, innovations in carbon fibers have been much slower. New carbon fibers using novel starting materials, such as carbon nanotubes, are now available in pilot plant quantities, and demonstrate improved mechanical, electrical, and/or thermal properties. However, for the most part, these fibers have only been tested in fiber form and not incorporated into composite materials. The improvements in carbon fiber properties will only become useful as structural materials if they are translated into composites. It is desired that the properties of OMCs made with novel carbon fibers will be higher than those of state-of-the-art composite materials (e.g. IM7/977-3) in mechanical, thermal, or electrical properties, or provide a unique combination of these properties.

In this effort, the offeror will make composite materials from novel carbon fibers using an aerospace-quality matrix material, and test those composites to determine the mechanical and physical properties. Thermosetting resins are preferred, unless a higher strain-to-failure resin would better take advantage of the properties of the fibers. In order to produce high-quality composites which take advantage of the properties of the novel carbon fibers, the fiber-matrix interfacial region will have to be optimized by appropriate surface treatment and sizing. OMC processing techniques for the novel carbon fiber composites will be developed. These processing techniques should be compatible with current industrial manufacturing processes such as prepreg lay-up, automated fiber placement, etc. The process will be demonstrated by fabricating sample flat panels during both Phases I and II. Mechanical and physical testing in Phase I should include, at a minimum: uniaxial tensile properties; shear properties (e.g. short beam shear or bending); electrical and thermal conductivity. Microstructural analysis of the composite is also required. An initial model will be created which relates starting materials and processing conditions to the final composite mechanical and physical properties.

In Phase II, the offeror will further optimize the surface treatment and sizing technique as well as the manufacturing process to create high-quality structural composites. More thorough mechanical and physical testing will be performed and will include a wider range of properties, with emphasis on interfacial and fiber dominated properties. The offeror will demonstrate the ability to make high-quality composites by selecting and fabricating a demonstration component. The selected component will take advantage of the properties of the novel carbon fiber OMCs and will have a geometry representative of state-of-the-art aerospace composite components. The offeror will design, produce, and test this component to validate the modeling and determine if properties achieved in sample panels translate into a typical component geometry. The quality of Phase II composites will be verified with non-destructive inspection (NDI). The offeror will also develop a business analysis of the novel composite material, including but not limited to, comparing properties and costs to state-of-the-art composite materials, determining the next steps for property improvement, and analyzing target applications.

PHASE I: Select an aerospace-quality matrix material. Develop and demonstrate surface treatment and sizing techniques to ensure translation of carbon fiber properties into the composite. Demonstrate ability to process the OMCs by producing at least two flat 4 x 4 inch OMC panels. Conduct initial microstructure characterization and perform mechanical and physical testing of the panels at ambient conditions.

PHASE II: Optimize surface treatment, sizing & processing. Produce at least 5 flat 10 x 10 inch test panels. Create initial model linking materials and processing to microstructure and properties. Design and carry out a test plan to obtain a wide range of mechanical & physical properties including some in hot/wet condition. Select, design, produce, and test demonstration component. Perform NDI of test panels and demonstration article. Conduct initial business analysis for novel carbon fiber composites.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Continue to optimize translation of properties of the novel carbon fibers into OMC materials and components. Demonstrate components for these OMCs with the unique combination of properties. Transition new materials to commercial and military aerospace customers, as well as other sectors.


    • Sahin, K. et al., “High strength micron size carbon fibers from polyacrylonitrile-carbon nanotube precursors,” Carbon, v 77, p 442-53, Oct. 2014.


    • Behabtu, N., et al., “Strong, Light, Multifunctional Fibers of Carbon Nanotubes with Ultrahigh Conductivity,” Science, v 339, n 6116, p 182-6, 11 Jan. 2013.


  • Cornwell, C. F. and Welch, Charles R., “Very-high-strength (60-Gpa) carbon nanotube fiber design based on molecular dynamics simulations,” Journal of Chemical Physics, v 134, n 20, May 28, 2011.

KEYWORDS: novel carbon fibers, organic matrix composites

  • TPOC-1: Karla Strong
  • Phone: 937-904-4598
  • Email:
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