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

Callaway launches new graphene-enhanced golf balls

Callaway Golf Company, U.S-based maker of golf equipment, unveiled new graphene-enhanced golf balls called Callaway Chrome Soft golf and Chrome Soft X golf balls. Shipping is supposed to be starting in February 2018, for about $45/dozen.

Callaway graphene-enhanced golf balls image

Graphene has reportedly allowed designers to push the limits of compression between the inner and outer core. A soft inner core is made to deform under large impact, and surpresses spin for maximum distance. On shorter shots, the firm graphene outer core helps the ball hold its shape, allowing for maximum spin and control. The new outer core is also designed to help the urethane cover grip the outer core, for even more spin on shorter shots.

Versarien reports strong performance in World Cup competition using graphene-enhanced equipment

Versarien LogoVersarien has noted the recent strong performances by British Skeleton World Cup competitor Dominic Parsons utilizing graphene-enhanced equipment provided by Versarien’s collaboration partner Bromley Technologies.

Versarien has been collaborating with Bromley since May 2016 to incorporate Versarien’s graphene enhanced carbon fibre into the skeleton sleds being produced by Bromley. Utilizing one of three Bromley X22 prototype sleds, Parsons set the fastest speed of 137.3 km/hr at the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation World Cup Race in St. Moritz.

Graphene Batteries Market Report

A spotlight on the EC's graphene-enhanced composites for automotive project

Scientists at the UK's University of Sunderland are leading Task 10.11 – Composites for Automotive, part of the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technology Flagship. The project is exploring how graphene could be used to create lighter, stronger, safer and more energy-efficient applications and parts for the automotive market.

Graphene for automotive parts project image

The University of Sunderland is leading a consortium of five research partners from Italy, Spain and Germany that have been conducting a series of tests with support from Centro Ricerche CRF of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over the last two years. Graphene was embedded into a polymer and mixed with traditional carbon fiber or glass fiber structural material, to test as the bumper of a car, and allowed the researchers to reduce the thickness of the structural components.

First Graphene reports on the progress of its graphene-enhanced cement project

First Graphene logo imageFirst Graphene has provided an update on its work with the University of Adelaide (UoA) on graphene for enhancement of industrial building products. The UoA is testing FGR graphene, with the aim of making “smart cement” with conductive graphene flakes with aims to address the concerns of cracking and corrosion and provide conductivity for better monitoring of the health of concrete structures.

According to FGR, the first test results indicate the addition of 0.03% standard graphene is the optimal quantity of graphene from the test conducted to date, showing a 22 - 23 % increase in compressive and tensile strength, respectively. The addition of more standard graphene does not reportedly increase or decrease the strength of the concrete material when compared to the control in this test work.

MITO receives a $224,988 grant to develop an additive that enhances the toughness of composite materials

MITO Material Solutions has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant of $224,988 to develop a graphene oxide-based nano-additive that doubles the interlaminar toughness of composite materials utilized in aerospace, recreation, and automotive industries.

The main focus of this project is the development of new hybrid nanofillers based on Graphene Oxide (GO) and Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxane (POSS). These nanofillers can be added to epoxy/vinyl ester/polyester matrices through a "Master Batch" process to enhance the interlaminar fracture toughness of commercial composites.

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