7. Nanostructured Carbon Composites

Emissions from the world’s rapidly-growing fleet of vehicles are an environmental concern, and raising the operating efficiency of transport is a promising way to reduce its overall impact.

New techniques to nanostructure carbon fibres for novel composites are showing the potential in vehicle manufacture to reduce the weight of cars by 10% or more. Lighter cars need less fuel to operate, increasing the efficiency of moving people and goods and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, efficiency is only one concern – another of equal importance is improving passenger safety. To increase the strength and toughness of new composites, the interface between carbon fibres and the surrounding polymer matrix is engineered at the nanoscale to improve anchoring – using carbon nanotubes, for example.

In the event of an accident, these surfaces are designed to absorb impact without tearing, distributing the force and protecting passengers inside the vehicle.

A third challenge, which may now be closer to a solution, is that of recycling carbon fibre composites – something which has held back the widespread deployment of the technology.

New techniques involve engineering cleavable “release points” into the material at the interface between the polymer and the fibre so that the bonds can be broken in a controlled fashion and the components that make up the composite can be recovered separately and reused.

Taken together, these three elements could have a major impact by bringing forward the potential for manufacturing lightweight, super- safe and recyclable composite vehicles to a mass scale.

“The World Economic Forum  is an independent international organization committed to  improving the state of the world  by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional  and industry agendas.

Incorporated as a not-for-profit foundation in 1971 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Forum is  tied to no political, partisan  or national interests.”

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