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Spotlight: Airbus' Tamara Blanco Valera talks about multifunctional graphene-based materials for sustainable aeroplanes

Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, September 11, 2020

Note: This content was developed by the Graphene Flagship. 

Tamara Blanco Varela works as a Research and Technology Engineer at Graphene Flagship Partner company Airbus, based near Madrid in Spain. Her extensive experience encompasses over 15 years of work on aeronautical composite materials and processes. She leads all Airbus activities related to graphene, and her ultimate goal is to fully exploit the properties of graphene to enhance Airbus's composites and endow them with new functionalities.

Graphene has a wide range of potential applications in the aeronautics industry. Among them, Blanco Varela is currently working on anti-/de-icing systems, as well as enhancing the mechanical properties of materials and decreasing resin moisture absorption. She has been actively involved with the Graphene Flagship since its inception in 2013, and she is currently part of the Graphene Flagship's Work Package for Composites, the Work Package for Production and the Spearhead Project GICE.

We spoke about her background, her career choices and what drives her to succeed, and she was and discuss how graphene-enriched multifunctional materials can contribute to more sustainable aircraft.

What made you choose a career in science, and how did you end up working at Airbus?

When I was just a kid in the 1980s, and people were asking "what do you want to be when you grow up?", I never would've thought that I'd end up working as an engineer for a leading company like Airbus. This was unimaginable for a girl in a little town in north-western Spain, where I grew up.

Just to give you an idea, there are more than ten times as many Airbus employees than people living in my hometown! I decided to break the mold and study engineering, because I liked the sciences more than humanities.

I left my beloved hometown and family to go to Madrid, and then after an internship, my great opportunity arrived: I started to work as a subcontractor for Airbus in the Composite Materials and Processes Department. Soon, I knew I'd made the best choice, and I'm still extremely proud of and passionate about this company and my job.

Can you tell us about what you're working on now?

My project centres around using graphene and layered materials to enhance commercial aircraft – mainly their structural elements. Within this field, we aim to devise new materials with high damage tolerance, strength and stiffness.

Moreover, we want to design multifunctional materials with new features and functionalities, like electrical conductivity to cope with lightning strikes, thermal conductivity for anti-icing, heat exchange and other purposes, and self-sensing materials that can identify potential damage and cracks.

Why does graphene have so much potential for the aerospace industry?

The current composites used for structural elements are made of resins and carbon fibers. The problem is that resins absorb water and moisture in wet conditions. Graphene can contribute to improving the design, weight and barrier properties of these composites, slowing moisture absorption and also acting as fire-retardant.

Graphene has the potential to decrease the energy consumption of several manufacturing processes, including resin curing, adhesive joining, welding, additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

In aircraft, the properties of graphene can be also exploited for anti-/de-icing, electrical conductivity, anti-corrosion and anti-contamination, anti-bacterial, easy-cleaning, anti-static surfaces, electromagnetic interference shielding and so on.

How can these new graphene technologies help us work towards a sustainable future?

By reducing CO2 emissions and moving towards zero emissions aircraft, the aeronautical sector is already tackling many great challenges in the fight against climate change. We aim to halve our carbon footprint from 2005 levels by 2050, and the advanced, multifunctional and sustainable composites created by Airbus are key players in the move towards aircrafts, which consume less fuel. Graphene is one of the most promising materials to contribute to these future composites.

What are the biggest milestones in your career so far?

I participated in failure analysis, qualifying composites for the Airbus A380 and A350 aeroplanes. I was also involved in the development of new, enhanced thermoset resins and thermoplastic materials, with a recent focus on cost reduction.

I have always been very active in communication and dissemination by participating in plenty of conferences, publications, patents and technology-watch activities. I have built a wide network of people working at research centers, material suppliers, universities, and other divisions of Airbus. I can say that I'm known within my field!

At the end of 2019, I was proud to be selected by Airbus as an expert in multifunctional materials.

What are your views for the future?

I think we are starting a new era where multifunctional materials are key actors to cope with great technical challenges. I would like to be part of this endeavour, by leading and aligning all stakeholders to include these materials in the aircraft as soon as possible.

Do you have a role model or someone who inspires you to achieve?

My role model is the CTO of Airbus, Grazia Vittadini. She is the first female on the Airbus Executive Committee and Chief Technology Officer in the aeronautical industry, whose engineering workforce is made up of just 17 percent women worldwide. Furthermore, she served as the Director of the Airbus Foundation Board and is a member of the Inclusion and Diversity Steering Committee. 

I really respect her professional philosophy and open mindset. She is very inspirational for me.

To quote Vittadini: "The only limits are the ones we impose ourselves."

Why do you feel that diversity in science and technology is important for the Graphene Flagship's progress?

Diversity is key in science and technology since it inspires innovation. I fully support diverse and inclusive work scientific or industrial environments, which attract the best talents, no matter their nationality, colour, gender, sexual orientation. Promoting diversity is essential for innovation, technology and success. It should be in the DNA of any company and research project.

Tags:  Aerospace  Airbus  composite materials  Graphene  Graphene Flagship  Grazia Vittadini  Tamara Blanco Varela 

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Airliner fuelled by wind and solar hydrogen 'by early 2030s': Airbus

Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, July 24, 2020
Airbus could launch a commercial airliner running on green hydrogen produced from wind and solar by the early 2030s, said a senior executive from the global aerospace group.

Tapping renewable hydrogen for aircraft propulsion is “one of the most promising” routes for the aviation sector to meet its zero-emissions goals, said Glenn Llewellyn, vice president, zero emissions technology, at Airbus.

Llewellyn predicted that hydrogen has a “very attractive” outlook for powering aircraft up to 200 passengers, with potential application through combustion in engines, or in fuel-cell technologies that produce electric power.


“We have the ambition to bring a zero-emission commercial airliner to market in the early 2030s,” Llewellyn told a panel of the Farnborough International Airshow Connect online event.

“We believe we need to position the aviation industry to be powered by renewable energy. Hydrogen is a very good surrogate for allowing us to do that.

“It can be produced directly by solar and wind, and we can then carry that energy onboard, either in fuel cells or combustion in a gas turbine, or even a hybrid-electric combination of the two.”

The Airbus executive predicted both “raw” hydrogen and carbon-neutral sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which are produced using renewable feedstock as an alternative to conventional jet fuel, both have important parts to play in aviation’s push to zero-emissions, with the latter likely to remain the better option for larger aircraft making longer journeys until mid-century.

An EU-backed study into hydrogen-powered aviation recently predicted hydrogen propulsion via combustion or fuel-cells “has the potential to be a major part of the future propulsion technology mix” and could reduce climate impact of flights by as much as 90%, compared with a maximum 60% for SAFs.

Llewellyn said the aerospace industry and its suppliers face “significant decisions” in the middle of the current decade in terms of technology choices to decarbonise the sector, which currently faces massive commercial challenges from the Covid-19 epidemic.

Riona Armesmith, chief project engineer for hybrid-electric propulsion at aero-engine giant Rolls-Royce, confirmed it is looking at options for combusting hydrogen in engines as part of its work on future propulsion technologies.

Adapting aircraft to run on hydrogen would also require significant work on fuel storage and airframe designs compared to SAFs, which are more compatible with existing aircraft fuel-systems, the experts said.

Along with Boeing of the US, Europe-based Airbus is one of the big-two global commercial aircraft suppliers to airlines around the world.

A Recharge special report published earlier this year explained the multiple technology options being explored as the aviation sector seeks to decarbonise. They include and EU-backed project called ENABLEH2 – in which Airbus and Rolls-Royce are both among the partners – that’s looking at the use of liquid hydrogen (LH2 ) as an aviation fuel, with a view to providing “comprehensive roadmaps for the introduction of LH2 for civil aviation”.

Aviation and the wider transport industry is just one of the global industrial sectors looking at green H2 as a route to decarbonisation where direct electrification is impractical, prompting forecasts of a surge in demand for generation capacity to produce it by mid-century.

Tags:  Airbus  Aviation  Fuel Cells  Glenn Llewellyn  Graphene  Riona Armesmith  Rolls Royce 

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Airbus Graphene Flagship Project

Posted By Graphene Council, Thursday, December 19, 2019
Versarien Plc, the advanced materials engineering group, is pleased to announce that it has been selected to participate in the Graphene Flagship project led by Airbus (the "Project").

Funded by the European Commission, the Graphene Flagship facilitates cooperation between its partners, accelerating the timeline for industry acceptance of graphene technologies. The Project that Versarien will participate in will be led by Airbus and will focus on graphene enhanced thermoelectric ice protection systems.

Ice accumulates on the surfaces of airplanes affecting the pilot's control of the aircraft. Thermoelectric ice protection systems prevent this from happening using an ultra-thin conductive layer to generate heat. The Project, which is categorised by the Graphene Flagship as a "Spearhead", large-scale commercialisation project, aims to develop graphene-based thermoelectric ice protection systems and to advance the technology readiness level of graphene in these systems.

To fund Versarien's participation in the Project it has received approval for a €350,000 grant from the Graphene Flagship.

Elmar Bonaccurso, Senior Scientist and Project Manager for Surface Technology at Airbus, commented: "Airbus has been following the Graphene Flagship from the beginning. Now, after six years of successful research and development, we are at the right point to step in with a larger project. We expect that, by using graphene as a material for ice protection systems, we can reduce the complexity of these systems to create a system that uses less energy, reduces fuel consumption and allows us to become more environmentally friendly in aviation."

Neill Ricketts, CEO of Versarien, commented: "We are very pleased to be working with Airbus on this key Graphene Flagship project and to be receiving funding from the Graphene Flagship to facilitate it. This is another example of Versarien's graphene technology being deployed in the aerospace sector, one where it has the potential to add significant value. We look forward to starting work on this project in the New Year and reporting on its progress and those of our many other commercialisation projects in due course."

Tags:  Airbus  Elmar Bonaccurso  European Commission  Graphene  Graphene Flagship  Neill Ricketts  Versarien 

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Airbus-Backed European Project Could Produce Safer Aircraft

Posted By Graphene Council, Monday, December 9, 2019
If ice accumulates on the wings, propellers or other surfaces of an aircraft, control can be dangerously inhibited. Thermoelectric ice protection systems prevent this from happening, using an ultra-thin conductive coating layer to generate heat when current is applied. Could existing technology for this application be improved? The graphene-based thermoelectric ice protection system (GICE) Spearhead Project, announced by the Graphene Flagship, is set to advance the technology readiness of graphene in thermoelectric ice protection systems.

Graphene is an ideal material to keep aircraft parts ice free, without affecting aerodynamic properties. Based on the work performed by various partners of the Graphene Flagship during earlier research phases, graphene-based ice protection systems are already in development, albeit at a low technology readiness level.

The goal of the newly launched GICE project is to advance these technologies to higher maturity by developing three technology demonstrators for specific use cases needed by key industrial partners, including Airbus and Sonaca.

Airbus is the largest European aerospace OEM and Sonaca is a strategic tier-1 supplier of components for Airbus, providing the ideal launch pad for the commercialisation of graphene-based ice protection systems.

"Thermoelectric ice protection technologies currently under investigation are based on carbon black, carbon rovings, carbon nanotubes, or metallic heating wires," explained Fabien Dezitter, Icing expert at Airbus and GICE leader. "They all have advantages and disadvantages with respect to each other, but we expect that the graphene-based solution proposed by GICE could bundle most advantages of all thermoelectric solutions.

"Advantages of graphene include flexibility of integration into complex 3D structures, low weight, reduced thermo-mechanical stress during heating cycles, higher efficiency with lower power consumption, no oxidation and chemical inertness and facile integrability into carbon fibre reinforced polymers, thermoplastics, or glass fibre reinforced polymers."

Graphene in these systems also enables precise control of heat generation to ensure the ice protection system is always at its optimum performance. These beneficial properties will help the GICE project improve the technology readiness of graphene in ice protection systems, with the final product based on the knowledge generated in the manufacturing of three demonstrators for real use cases, moving toward safer and environmentally friendlier flights.

Qualification and certification processes for new technologies in the aerospace sector are slow, which is why the GICE project endeavours to bring graphene ice protection systems up to technology readiness level six — with a system prototype demonstration tested in an icing wind tunnel by the end of the Spearhead Project in 2023.

Tags:  Airbus  carbon nanotubes  Graphene  Graphene Flagship  Sonaca  thermoelectric 

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Graphene Flagship partners up European academia and industry to make lighter composites for planes and cars

Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, December 6, 2019

The Graphene Flagship brought together top European researchers and companies to discuss the most disruptive ways graphene could enhance composites used in the aerospace, automotive and energy industries. The multidisciplinary team involved researchers from academic institutions, business enterprises such as Graphene Flagship Partners Nanesa and Avanzare, and large transportation end-user industries, such as Graphene Flagship Partners Airbus and Fiat. 

They showed that integrating graphene and related materials (GRMs) into fibre-reinforced composites (FRCs) has great potential to improve weight and strength, and helps to overcome the bottlenecks limiting the applications of these composites in planes, cars, wind turbines and more. Nowadays, the transportation industry is responsible for nearly one-third of global energy demand, and it is the major source of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas. Graphene Flagship scientists are therefore continually trying to develop new materials to lower fuel usage and CO2 emissions, helping to mitigate environmental damage and climate change.

Graphene-integrated composites are an example of lighter materials with great potential for use in vehicle frameworks. They are constructed by introducing graphene sheets, a few billionths of a metre thick, into hierarchical fibre composites as a nano-additives. Hierarchical fibre composites are a type of composite material in which components of different sizes are combined in a controlled way to significantly improve the mechanical properties. They typically consist of micro- or mesoscopic carbon fibres, a few millionths of a metre thick, attached to a polymer matrix, and they are already used as building materials to make vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

Graphene's high aspect ratio, high flexibility and mechanical strength enable it to enhance the strength of weak points in these composites, such as at the interface between two different components. Its tunable surface chemistry also means that interactions with the carbon fibre and polymer matrix can be adjusted as needed. The fibre, polymer matrix and graphene layers all work together to distribute mechanical stress, resulting in a material with improved strength and other beneficial properties.

There are many challenges to consider. For instance, planes experience temperature changes between 20 °C and -40 °C every time they take off and land, with huge differences in pressure and humidity. Graphene-integrated composites therefore need to withstand water condensing and even freezing inside the fuselage. They also need to endure lightning strikes, which happen several times per month, so the conductive properties of graphene must be harnessed to create an electrically conductive framework that resists electromagnetic impulses. In cars, new structural materials must be able to withstand crash tests and be lightweight enough to ensure fuel efficiency. Graphene Flagship researchers are also investigating conductive materials to replace circuitry in car dashboards.

Researchers and end-users come together
Graphene Flagship partners at Queen Mary University and the National Graphene Institute, UK, FORTH-Hellas, Greece, CNR, Italy, and Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, collaborated with researchers at the University of Turin, the University of Trento and KET-LAB, Italy, and the University of Patras, Greece, to provide perspectives from the research community. They worked with scientists at Graphene Flagship partner companies Nanesa, Italy, and Avanzare, Spain, to review the technological viability of graphene-incorporated FRCs.

Francesco Bertocchi, co-author of the paper and President of Nanesa, believes that graphene-incorporated FRCs are indeed feasible for vehicle design, and has created new composites with many essential properties for the transportation industries. "Thanks to the Graphene Flagship, Nanesa has worked in close synergy with many partners to create many different prototypes. These include properties such as flame retardancy, water vapor absorption barrier, high electrical and thermal conductivity, EMI shielding. We also integrated thermo-resistive systems for de-icing and anti-icing ," he says.

Graphene Flagship Partners Airbus and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, world leading aerospace and automotive industries, evaluated the impact of graphene-incorporated FRCs on the aerospace and automotive industries and assessed their commercial viability.

Tamara Blanco-Varela, co-author and materials & processes engineer at Airbus, explains that Airbus is working hard to make these materials viable for use in new aircraft models. "We all know that the aeronautical sector is very challenging for the introduction of new materials or technologies. Airbus is committed to making graphene-related materials fly as soon as possible, and a step-by-step approach is being set up," she says. By selecting 'quick-win' applications with immediate benefits to the aerospace industry, she anticipates that graphene-integrated FRCs will reach the market soon. "One example is using these materials for anti- and de-icing purposes in aeroplanes, for which Airbus will be leading activities targeting commercial exploitation of this technology. We are hoping for it to reach a high maturity level, with a target readiness level between five and six, in the next few years."

Brunetto Martorana, co-author and researcher at Graphene Flagship partner Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, adds: "The interesting structural properties of graphene have opened an interesting window for designing novel light composites." He explains that new lightweight composite materials do not necessarily need to be lower in strength and introduce safety issues. "New approaches must be found to enhance the 'crashworthiness' of composites – and graphene composites may be able to fill that role," he continues. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles have now committed to the commercialization of new composite materials, and will be leading a new initiative to bring this technology to market."

An uplifting outlook
"The Graphene Flagship provides a stable, clear, long-lasting partnership for different partners to work together. They all started their collaboration as part of our Composites Work Package", comments Vincenzo Palermo, Graphene Flagship Vice-Director and lead author of the paper. "The Graphene Flagship pushes all partners to have frequent interactions, with regular meetings – like in this case, partners who begun working on graphene with different motivations have come together to address common challenges," he says.

Costas Galiotis, the Graphene Flagship's Composites Work Package leader, expresses that this collaboration has been highly valuable. "This a comprehensive review of the work undertaken in the Graphene Flagship, and elsewhere, to confirm that the addition of GRMs provides benefits to many applications in the aerospace, automotive, energy and leisure industries."

Galiotis expresses particular interest in the review's analysis of the best ways to process GRMs into composites, the effect of this on the overall composite performance, and the challenges scientists face in the search for high performance composites. "Overall, I think this is a timely review article for the composites field, which should be read with interest by all parties involved with composite development and usage," he concludes.

 

Andrea C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and Chair of its Management Panel, comments: "This paper shows the leadership of large corporations and small enterprises, all partners of the Graphene Flagship, in taking graphene composites to the market in the next few years. This yet again shows the steady progress of the Graphene Flagship along its technology and innovation roadmap."

Tags:  Aerospace  Airbus  Andrea C. Ferrari  Automotive  Avanzare  Brunetto Martorana  composites  Costas Galiotis  Fiat-Chrysler  Francesco Bertocchi  Graphene  Graphene Flagship  Nanesa  Tamara Blanco-Varela  Vincenzo Palermo 

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Haydale Awarded Funding to Develop Non-Metallic Gas Tanks for Spacecraft Propulsion Systems

Posted By Graphene Council, Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2019

Haydale has been awarded a technology de-risking project by the European Space Agency (ESA), to develop non-metallic gas tanks for spacecraft propulsion systems. This activity is alongside ISP International Space Propulsion Ltd through the ESA ARTES Competitiveness & Growth, in conjunction with UK Space Agency.

The recent market growth of small spacecraft constellations has created a challenge within the existing space propulsion supply chain for low-cost reliable components, which meet the rapid delivery schedule and support the on-going reduction of orbital debris. With the constellation market set to increase rapidly, the development of components that meet these criteria is critical. Haydale’s non-metallic system offers a low-cost alternative with reduced lead time that can be offered in a wider range of configurations to exactly suit the end user requirement.



This award follows on from the successful outcome of the GSTP project in 2018 performed with ESA and the UK Space Agency (UKSA) entitled “Assessments to Prepare and De-Risk Technology Developments - Tank using Advanced Composites.” This latest project will see Haydale develop findings from the GSTP project, performing comprehensive tests to determine the best material and process for developing non-metallic gas tanks.

Upon careful consideration and selection of both material and process, Haydale will formulate and model a largely de-risked tank, prior to the manufacture of development models for full testing. This will result in the qualification for specific Spacecraft Propulsion Systems. 

The role of this equipment is to store pressurised gas in a location onboard the spacecraft platform, in a manner that is intrinsically safe, and offers reliable provision of stored media, as and when required by the system. Within this equipment, the product will offer; leak-free storage and delivery on demand of all propellant and pressurised gases stored within, under specified environmental conditions and expected transient load cases; high pressure storage capabilities, with required levels of safety and reliability; highly reliable connections to the feed system and mechanical mounting; 

Prominent producers of Satellite technology have been identified and are engaged in developing the specification and tank design for eventual manufacture and deployment.

Keith Broadbent, CEO, Haydale, said: “This funding will allow Haydale to develop existing knowledge in the space industry and we look forward to developing the technology alongside our partners. We are pleased to have gained the support of the Airbus DS Tank Product Group who are interested in the development of competitive non-conventional pressure vessel products, and can provide clear design drivers thanks to their invaluable expertise. With the UK space market growing, Haydale is delighted to be part of this progression.”

Tags:  Aerospace  Airbus  Graphene  Haydale  Keith Broadbent 

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