ITA RWTH Aachen takes home JEC's 2013 Multifunctional Materials award

The Institut für Textiltechnik (ITA) of RWTH Aachen University's lightweight pitch-based carbon composite construction material weighs less than aluminum but is as thermally conductive as steel alloy.

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On March 12th, Professor Thomas Gries and Dr. Michael Glowania of the Institut für Textiltechnik (ITA) of RWTH Aachen University (Aachen Germany) were honored at the 2013 JEC Europe Show (Porte de Versailles, Paris, France) with the JEC Innovation Award in the "Multifunctional Materials" category. Thier winning entry is a lightweight construction material that features pitch-based carbon fibers aligned in a honeycomb structure. Rated at a thermal conductivity of more than 27 W/mK, the composite has heat conductivity similar to that of steel alloy but weighs less per unit of volume than aluminum. The pair previously took first prize in the university competition ZukunftErfindenNRW (Future Inventions NRW) 2012, presented by North Rhine-Westfalia Science Minister Svenja Schulze on the 14th of January, 2013, in Essen, Germany.

ITA considers this contruction material so groundbreaking that it believes it could initiate "a giant leap forward in lightweight construction." In the future, the awardees contend, carbon fibers and polymers with a low density and high thermal conductivity can replace metal components. Becuase the fibers are much lighter than steel, the wight reduction is expected to save large amounts of energy, a boon to automotive, aerospace and other mechanical engineers. Further, the constructions exhibits significant thermal stability, withstanding temperatures of up to 180°C/356°F. TITA claims the composite is perfect for any application where lightweight construction and high thermal conductivity are crucial. The lightweight composite could be a new option for automotive and aircraft use, e.g., for the heat sink of batteries used in electric cars and other vehicles as well as in the production of helicopter tails.

It has already been established that pitch-based carbon fibers, which are aligned in one direction, have a high thermal conductivity. In this orientation, carbon fibers conduct heat twice as well as copper, which is well known as one of the best conductors of heat. Previously, production of carbon fiber was very difficult due to the brittle nature of the material but now Dr. Glowania and Prof, Gries say they have succeeded in solving this problem by a combination of the following:

  • They made it possible to enhance the process ability of ultrahigh modulus carbon fibers. This is an extremely brittle material having an elastic modulus of 950 GPa.
  • They were able to align the fibers in the targeted component in the thickness direction thus achieving direct heat conduction as well as reducing costs and providing greater efficiency.
  • They modified the insulating polymeric matrix, in which the carbon fibers are embedded, in order to achieve such a high heat conduction.

Prof. Gries and Dr. Glowania commented: "We are delighted that our development is internationally recognized by the JEC Award. If our new lightweight approach is adapted worldwide, we will provide a competitive advantage for the industry and simultaneously come a significant step forward in energy saving."

The JEC Innovation Awards have been presented each year at the JEC Show in Paris since 1998. More than 1,600 composites-indutry companies worldwide have participated in the compoeition.

The Institut für Textiltechnik (ITA) of RWTH Aachen University develops textile machinery and components, as well as new materials and processes for the production of textile. With the inauguration of the Center of High Performance Materials in December 2012, ITA offers industry direct access to scientific research, especially in the fields of high-modulus fibers and composites. The ITA also offers training and seminars for industrial companies as well as research services together with its partner company 3T GmbH. Additionally, the ITA provides students from various disciplines in textile technology the ability to explore textile research, experience textile development and machinery hands on and offers a Dr. Ing. program.

For more Information, visit the ITA RWTH Web site: