U.S. Navy develops PEEK-like resin for aero, marine applications

The U.S. Navy Research Laboratory Chemistry Division has developed a second-generation polyetheretherketone (PEEK)-like phthalonitrile resin that has good high-temperature and flammability properties and exhibits no glass transition temperature.

The ­­U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Chemistry Division (Washington, D.C.) reported on April 17 that its scientists have developed a second generation, cost­-effective polyetheretherketone (PEEK­)-like phthalonitrile­ resin that demonstrates superior high-temperature and flammability properties for use in marine, aerospace and other applications.

The resin can be used to make composite components by established industrial methods such as resin transfer molding (RTM), infusion, filament winding, prepreg consolidation and potentially by automated composite manufacturing techniques such as automated tape laying and automated fiber placement.

“The NRL-­developed phthalonitrile-­based polymeric composites exhibit superior flammability, low water absorption and high-temperature properties that do not exist in the current marketplace,” says, Teddy Keller, Ph.D., head, NRL Advanced Materials Section. “The fully cured phthalonitrile does not exhibit a glass transition temperature and can be used for structural applications in oxidizing and thermally hostile environments.”

The Navy says the many attractive features of the phthalonitriles make these resins excellent candidates for numerous marine, aerospace, and domestic settings. The fire performance of phthalonitrile­ carbon and phthalonitrile­ glass composites is said to be superior to that of any other thermoset­-based composite currently in use for aerospace, ship and submarine applications and opens up many more applications than could be realized for other resin systems.

“Furthermore, a low melt viscosity and a larger processing window exhibited exclusively by the new second generation phthalonitrile technology are useful for fabrication of thick composite sections where the melt has to impregnate into thick fiber preforms,” Keller says.

NRL’s PEEK-­like phthalonitrile resins were also measured to have excellent dielectric permittivity and loss tangent characteristics for high-temperature radomes and other applications requiring radio frequency transparency. The ability to cure to a shaped solid or composite below 250°C/482°F and the superior physical properties relative to other high-temperature polymers such as polyimides enhance the importance of the phthalonitrile system.

Due to their low water absorption, processing temperatures comparable to common epoxy resins, and superior thermo­oxidative stability at temperatures in excess of 375°C/707°F, the second­generation PEEK­-like phthalonitrile-­based polymers can revolutionize the use of composites in applications ranging from lightweight automobiles to fire­-resistant building materials.

The oligomeric PEEK-­like phthalonitrile is a liquid above 50°C/122°F and polymerizes to a thermoset occurring above 150°C/302°F, giving it an ample processing temperature window. The rate of polymerization is controlled as a function of temperature and the amount of curing additive, and the fully cured void-­free phthalonitrile polymer does not exhibit a glass transition temperature (does not melt or soften) when post­-cured to temperatures greater than 375°C/707°F. NRL’s phthalonitrile resins/prepolymers or resin prepregs have an indefinite shelf life without the need for refrigeration.

Current interest in the PEEK­-like phthalonitrile includes aircraft, ship, automotive and wind blade structural applications; battery casings; fire­-resistant textiles and structural composites; robotic and autonomous fire fighting; and ammunition casings and storage containers.