Rapid Heat Popping Joints could revolutionise use of composites

World-leading research makes composite parts easy to dismantle, maintain and recycle.

A revolutionary new technology developed by the National Composites Centre (NCC) and Oxford Brookes University means composite structures can now be separated (or disbonded) quickly and cheaply using a simple heat source. By making it easy to work with, repair and disassemble composite parts, this world-leading research could have a transformational impact on the design, use and end-of life recycling of wide range of products, including cars, aircraft and wind turbines.

Researchers at Oxford Brookes University demonstrated that by adding low-cost additives to off-the-shelf structural adhesives, composite parts could be separated in as little as six seconds by raising the temperature of the joint to approximately 160°C. The National Composites Centre has now proved that the new approach works at an industrial scale as part of the Technology Pull-Through Programme, designed to transition new ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

Small quantities of expandable graphite (widely used for fire protection) or thermal expandable microspheres are added to adhesives routinely used to bond composite parts. The additives have minimal impact on the performance of components in normal operation, but when heated to the required temperature exert a force causing components to ‘pop apart’. This means, in the near future, composite components may be easily repositioned and reused during manufacturing – reducing waste, repaired in operation and recycled more efficiently at the end of their working life.