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Multifunctional Layers for Safer Aircraft Composite Structures

Tags: Air

State of the Art - Background

The use of composite materials in the aeronautics industry has constantly increased over the last 35 years, due mainly to their high level specific strength and stiffness combined with the possibility of designing complex geometry components that are more aerodynamically efficient than metals.

But due to the organic nature of polymeric matrix components, composite materials are electrically and thermally bad conductors and tend to burn easily, emitting toxic gases and smoke. For this reason, they require affordable, effective and certifiable protection systems against atmospheric hazards such as icing and erosion, as well as fire, not only for preventing accidents but also for surviving them. Moreover, improved field inspection techniques for continuous assessment of their structural health are required due to their increased use.

The incorporation of ice/fire protection and structural health monitoring systems on composite structures result in adding an additional weight penalty and complexity during the component manufacturing and posterior maintenance, and may even go against the structural integrity of the component in some cases.


The main objective of LAYSA is to develop a multifunctional layer with thermal and electrical conductivity, improved fire performances and sensing capabilities to be incorporated in aircraft composite structures for ice and fire protection, as well as health monitoring.

The scientific objectives of the project are:

- Design and manufacture a novel layer concept with multifunctionality based on nanomaterials;

- Develop electrical/thermal conductivity capable of distributing the necessary heat on a composite surface to prevent ice formation on its surface in rough fly conditions or to remove the already existing one. With respect to current electrothermal system it is estimated that a weight reduction of 99% and a power consumption reduction of 50% can be achieved;

- Reduce flammability;

- Use electrical conductivity variation measures to sense temperature and stress;

- Integrate, model and validate a multifunctional system in novel structural composite materials.

The technological objectives are:

- Couple the conductivity characteristics of the composite with ice/fire protection and health monitoring systems;

- Develop modelling tools to facilitate the analysis and design of multifunctional layers;

- Manufacture and validate composite components with ice/fire protection and sensing capabilities for real-time temperature and damage assessment.

Description of Work

The project work packages (WP) are:

WP1: Specification of aircraft composite structures in order to determine the base materials to be used during the project. Specification of structural and functional requirements of ice/fire protection and sensor systems of aircraft composite structures. Several nanomaterials will be considered including different carbon nanotubes, layered silicates (MMT) or other similar metal nanotubes - and also the possibility of combining nanomaterials.

WP2: Development of nanocomposite with triple functionality (electrical /thermal conductivity, fire resistance and sensing capability). The functionalities will be studied separately, focusing on pre-treatment, dispersion, adhesion and orientation (randomly or aligned) of nanomaterials into resin for the required functionality.

A model will be derived to show how each of the possible nanofillers will interact with each other and with the available epoxy matrix in order to produce nanocomposites of predictable electrical, thermal, sensing properties and fire protection.

WP3: Integration of the nanocomposite in the traditional composite manufacturing process. Several layer alternatives will be considered, selected, optimised and incorporated in the manufacturing process of the novel composite.

WP4: Economic evaluation, exploitation and dissemination. Steps for certifying technology will also be explored.

Expected Results

Concentrating solely on structural mass reduction does not lead to further lowering of equipment mass because the structure typically represents as little as 10-15% of the total mass.

The integration of the three functions (ice/fire protection and health monitoring) with nanomaterial technologies opens the door to high performance, environmentally friendly and safer aircraft operation by better exploiting available multifunctionality potentials derived from their exceptional properties, in terms of thermal and electrical conductivity and sensing capacity.

LAYSA outputs are expected to have competitive and societal impacts such as savings in the manufacturing process and fuel consumption, increasing the European market share and the opportunities for employment of highly skilled professionals.

LAYSA workpackages
LAYSA workpackages