Composite materials are composed of more than one kind of molecule. They are used in all sorts of applications and usually have some advantage over the materials that they are made of, if they were to be used alone. If you are interested in learning more, here is a guide to some of the most commonly used composite material types.
Synthetic polymers like Aquazol are used in everything from adhesives to car parts. A polymer is any material made up of long chains of bonded monomers. Although many polymers (like cellulose) naturally occur in plants, synthetic polymers have been developed using fossil fuel derivatives and plant fermentation processes. Check out polychemistry.com for more information about the processes used in the creation of synthetic polymer compounds.
Bamboo is an immensely hardy and fast-growing grass. This makes it perfect for the creation of environmentally friendly building materials. Unfortunately, conventional mulching and bonding does not work well with bamboo – which bonds poorly. Instead, a laminate or additional material must be added to make it more susceptible to permanent bonding. Engineered bamboo is currently being used in the creation of experimental sustainable architecture. It might just be one of the most important composites to be created in the 21st century in terms of climate responsibility.
Concrete is a strong material – having been used since the golden age of Ancient Rome to create durable structures efficiently. However, concrete can suffer from structural instability when subjected to great stress. Most construction professionals reinforce concrete with metal rebars to make it last longer. Reinforced concrete was invented and used by William B Wilkinson in 1854 during his construction of a building for his servants. Around the same time, engineers in France were coming to the same conclusion about the best method of making concrete stronger.
Carbon fiber is technically a kind of polymer due to the way in which it is composed of multiple monomers chained together into polymer strands. Carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel and twice as stiff despite being considerably lighter. It is commonly laid over a mold and coated with a plastic or resin layer to give it structure. It can be used to strengthen other polymers through a reinforcing process. Carbon fibers are used as a material to create a family of composites currently being used to create high-tech, high-performance aircraft parts. These ‘fiber-reinforced plastics’ can withstand high levels of stress.
Ceramic Matrix Composites
Ceramic Matrix Composites are a relatively new class of composite material. These materials are used in places that are subjected to huge amounts of heat – such as the exterior surfaces of spacecraft or experimental disc brake calipers. CMC materials are being tested for use in energy harvesting equipment. They are composed of thin ceramic fibers embedded in a thick ceramic matrix. However, the individual fibers and the matrix minus the fibers would be weak; the ‘locking together’ of the two makes for an extremely strong material.