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100% bio-sourced thermoset composites tested for space

Written by  Tuesday, 02 August 2022 04:19
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Carbon-fibre composite sample using bio-based epoxy

Combining high strength with low weight, corrosion-resistant and shapeable into almost any form, composite materials are a key ingredient of modern life: employed everywhere from aviation to civil engineering, sports equipment to dentistry – and also a vital element of space missions. But they have some less desirable aspects: produced from petroleum products, they are non-renewable in nature and also non-recyclable. So ESA is working with Côte D’Azur University on a new breed of space-quality composites made from wholly sustainable sources.

Testing bio-based expoxy
Testing bio-based expoxy

“And when we say biomass we don’t mean growing new crops especially for this purpose, but rather reusing existing bio-based material cheaply and efficiently – namely used vegetable oil, timber waste and oceanic algae.”

The idea came out of discussion with Professor Alice Mija of the Nice Institute of Chemistry (ICN) at Côte D’Azur University in France.

“It’s a very ambitious and challenging project – to produce 100% bio-based thermoset resins for space – which draws on a lot of different chemical, engineering and industrial expertises,” she comments.

“Obviously the desire for greater sustainability by avoiding the use of petroleum products is one important driver of this work. In addition one of the key chemicals used for thermoset production, bisphenol-A, is in the process of being restricted by the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, REACH, because of its hormone-altering and mutagenic properties. It has already been banned for food packaging products, and further restrictions will come in future.”

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