What are composite materials?

Composite materials (also referred to as composition materials, or simply composites) are materials formed by combining two or more materials with different properties to produce an end material with unique characteristics. These materials do not blend or dissolve together but remain distinct within the final composite structure. Composite materials can be made to be stronger, lighter or more durable than traditional materials due to properties they gain from combining their different components.

Most composites are made up of two materials - the matrix (or binder) surrounds a cluster of fibers or fragments of a stronger material (reinforcement). A common example of this structure is fiberglass, which was developed in the 1940’s to be the first modern composite and is still in widespread use. In fiberglass, fine fibers of glass, which are woven into a cloth of sorts, act as the reinforcement in a plastic or resin matrix.

composite crossection image

While composite materials are not a new concept (for example, mud bricks, made from dried mud embedded with straw pieces, have been around for thousands of years), recent technologies have brought many new and exciting composites to existence. By careful selection of matrix and reinforcement (as well as the best manufacturing process to bring them together) it is possible to create significantly superior materials, with tailored properties for specific needs. Typical composite materials include composite building materials like cement and concrete, different metal composites, plastic composites and ceramic composites.

How are composite materials made?

The three main factors that help mold the end composite material are the matrix, reinforcement and manufacturing process. As matrix, many composites use resins, which are thermosetting or thermosoftening plastics (hence the name ‘reinforced plastics’ often given to them). These are polymers that hold the reinforcement together and help determine the physical properties of the end composite.

layers inside a composite image



Thermosetting plastics begin as liquid but then harden with heat. They do not return to liquid state and so they are durable, even in extreme exposure to chemicals and wear. Thermosoftening plastics are hard at low temperatures and but soften with heat. They are less commonly used but possess interesting advantages like long shelf life of raw material and capacity for recycling. There are other matrix materials such as ceramics, carbon and metals that are used for specific purposes.

Reinforcement materials grow more varied with time and technology, but the most commonly used ones are still glass fibers. Advanced composites tend to favor carbon fibers as reinforcement, which are much stronger than glass fibers, but are also more expensive. Carbon fiber composites are strong and light, and are used in aircraft structures and sports gear (golf clubs and various rackets). They are also increasingly used to replace metals that replace human bones. Some polymers make good reinforcement materials, and help make composites that are strong and light.

The manufacturing process usually involves a mould, in which the reinforcement is first placed and then the semi-liquid matrix is sprayed or poured in to form the object. Moulding processes are traditionally done by hand, though machine processing is becoming more common. One of the new methods is called ‘pultrusion’ and is ideal for making products that are straight and have a constant cross section, like different kinds of beams. Products that of thin or complex shape (like curved panels) are built up by applying sheets of woven fiber reinforcement, saturated with matrix material, over a mould. Advanced composites (like those which are used in aircraft) are usually made from a honeycomb of plastic held between two sheets of carbon-fiber reinforced composite material, which results in high strength, low weight and bending stiffness.

Where can composites be found?

Composite materials have many obvious advantages, as they can be made to be lightweight, strong, corrosion and heat resistant, flexible, transparent and more according to specific needs. Composites are already used in many industries, like boats, aerospace, sports equipment (golf shafts, tennis rackets, surfboards, hockey sticks and more), Automotive components, wind turbine blades, body armour, building materials, bridges, medical utilities and others. Composite materials’ merits and potential assures ample research in the field which is hoped to bring future developments and implementations in additional markets.

Modern aviation is a specific example of an industry with complex needs and requirements, which benefits greatly from composite materials’ advantages. This industry raises demands of light and strong materials, that are also durable to heat and corrosion. It is no surprise, then, that many aircraft have wing and tail sections, as well as propellers and rotor blades made of composites, along with much of the internal structure.

What is graphene?

Graphene is a two-dimensional matrix of carbon atoms, arranged in a honeycomb lattice. A single square-meter sheet of graphene would weigh just 0.0077 grams but could support up to four kilograms. That means it is thin and lightweight but also incredibly strong. It also has a large surface area, great heat and electricity conductivity and a variety of additional incredible traits. This is probably why scientists and researchers call it “a miracle material” and predict it will revolutionize just about every industry known to man.

Graphene and composite materials

As was stated before, graphene has a myriad of unprecedented attributes, any number of which could potentially be used to make extraordinary composites. The presence of graphene can enhance the conductivity and strength of bulk materials and help create composites with superior qualities. Graphene can also be added to metals, polymers and ceramics to create composites that are conductive and resistant to heat and pressure.

graphene and tin layered composite image

Graphene composites have many potential applications, with much research going on to create unique and innovative materials. The applications seem endless, as one graphene-polymer proves to be light, flexible and an excellent electrical conductor, while another dioxide-graphene composite was found to be of interesting photocatalytic efficiencies, with many other possible coupling of materials to someday make all kinds of composites. The potential of graphene composites includes medical implants, engineering materials for aerospace and renewables and much more.

Further reading

Latest Graphene Composite news

Impressions from the 2018 Graphene Week in San Sebastian

The Graphene-Info team attended this year's Graphene Week, organized by the Graphene Flagship in San Sebastian, Spain, 10-14 September 2018. The event attracted over 600 visitors from all over the world, and was extremely well organized.

While the talks and lectures were clearly scientifically-oriented, the commercial angle was also evident and many institutes and companies were there to show their recent product advancements. The Graphene Flagship's booth held a fascinating array of exhibits: graphene-enhanced retina and neural prosthesis (biomedical devices) by the ICN2 as a part of Braincom, Airbus' graphene composite for the leading edge of the tail of the Airbus A350, Nokia, Ericsson and AMO's graphene-based modulators and photodetectors for optical communications, a prosthetic robotic hand enhanced with graphene nerve sensors by the IIT, University of Cambridge's insole graphene-based pressure sensor and more.

Zenyatta to collaborate with German Aerospace Center on graphene composites

Zenyatta Ventures has announced that it will be commencing a new research collaboration with the University of British Columbia (UBC)-Okanagan Campus and the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (“DLR”, the German Aerospace Center) to investigate the potential use of Albany Graphite for graphene and graphene oxide in new composite materials.

Dr. Lukas Bichler, who will be leading the composite development project, said: “UBC researchers have established a partnership with DLR, which seeks to provide unique educational and research opportunities for future engineers. Also, the partners bring together Canadian and European industry partners and allow effective technology transfer and rapid innovation”.

The Graphene Handbook

Haydale receives funding to develop graphene-enhanced composite tooling and automotive body panels

Haydale has announced that it has been awarded a research and development grant from the Niche Vehicle Network to develop graphene-enhanced composite tooling and graphene-enhanced automotive body panels. Haydale is looking to reduce cycle times compared to existing tooling methods, as well as reduce weight and increase performance of component material.

A grant of £249,600, of which Haydale will receive £120,000, has been awarded to the consortium that Haydale leads, joined by Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) and Pentaxia. BAC is a British manufacturer of the Mono, the world's only road-legal, single seat super car. Pentaxia is a specialist in tooling design, machining (jigs & fixtures), and composite production.

Ford to release graphene-enhanced cars by the end of 2018

Automotive giant Ford has announced that it will become the first automaker to use graphene parts in its vehicles, starting with the Mustang and F-150 by the end of 2018.

Ford F-150 image

Ford acknowledges the difficulties of graphene manufacturing and use, but in partnership with Eagle Industries and XG Sciences, it has determined a way to make use of graphene reinforcement in certain components to strengthen and lighten them, as well as reduce noise. Since 2014, Ford and its partners have tested graphene-reinforced foam covers for noisy components such as the fuel rail, pumps, and belt-driven pulleys or chain-driven gears on the front of engines. The graphene is mixed with foam constituents, and the resulting parts are said to be 17% quieter, 20% stronger, and 30% more heat-resistant.

An interview with Graphmatech's CFO, Björn Lindh

Sweden-based Graphmatech develops and produces novel graphene-based nanocomposite materials, under the Aros Graphene brand. The company recently secured an investment from ABB and Walerud Ventures, and the company's CFO, Björn Lindh, was kind enough to answer a few questions we had to him.

Björn Lindh - Graphmatech

Q: Thank you for your time Björn. Can you give us a short introduction to Graphmatech's Aros Graphene materials, and how it differs from other graphene materials on the market?

Graphmatech has invented the novel material, Aros Graphene that keeps most of graphene's features, while making it easy to use in large industrial scales by preventing agglomeration, which is a key challenge for the use of graphene. Aros graphene is produced in powder form and can be used as additive, as coating or even in 3D-printing. The market introduction and launch of first products, filaments and thermal paste, will be introduced to the market in 2019.

XFNANO: Graphene and graphene-like materials since 2009 XFNANO: Graphene and graphene-like materials since 2009