• Home  / 
  • Featured
  •  /  Is Graphene The Basis Of Next-Gen Airplanes?

Is Graphene The Basis Of Next-Gen Airplanes?

Graphene Airplanes

Graphene could become the basis of a new generation of faster, lighter aircraft. The research is examining the potential of graphene reinforced aluminum matrix nanocomposites.

Graphene, in its basic form, is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon. The material is light, transparent, strong and very conductive.

In this new development, scientists are looking at graphene reinforced aluminum matrix nanocomposites as this basis of building a new generation of aircraft. The new material would be used for certain parts of an aeroplane, and these would be lighter, stronger and more conductive compared with existing materials.

There is also a possibility that the shell of an aircraft could be manufactured from graphene, through incorporating the material into traditional carbon fibre composites. This would be based on ‘graphene paper,’ which is a form that can be reshaped and reformed from its original raw material state. This material would be lighter, stronger, harder and more flexible than steel. In other words, an effective material for the development of stronger and more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The research takes the form of a project between The University of Manchester (the institution where graphene was discovered) and a leading Chinese aviation company called Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials. The research group is also looking into graphene energy storage materials, environmental purification materials and information materials.

In parallel research, scientists are looking at “graphene sponges”, as devices to conduct electricity and heat. With this, graphene absorbs laser energy and builds up a charge of electrons. At the point where the graphene is unable to retain anymore, the extra electrons are released which pushes the sponge in the opposite direction.

Schematic diagrams of the proposed mechanism

Schematic diagrams of the proposed mechanism

As a theoretical debate, researchers are wondering if this concept could one-day lead to a fuel free aircraft, in that the principles could propel a large object through the air. This is very much at the ‘ideas’ stage, although the concept is explored further in a white paper. The paper, from Nankai University in China, is titled “Macroscopic and Direct Light Propulsion of Bulk Graphene Material.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.