One future problem, which has not sufficiently been addressed, is that of the fumes and smoke created when composite material burns. Composite material is a truly great human achievement in material science, however as we use this material in more and more places we need to be acutely aware of the risks and potential consequences of their use. One risk is that many types of composite give of poison ness gaseous compounds such as cyanide gas. Not all composite materials will do this, but some do.
Composite material has been a godsend for aerospace as the material is light and very strong. Boeing announced it's forward-looking hope to sell 200 of the 7E7 aircraft in calendar year 2005. Already in December of 2004 Japan Airlines gave its commitment to order 50 Boeing 7E7 aircraft. Boeing has recently received a commitment from Continental Airlines as well for billions of dollars worth of aircraft purchases between now and 2009 to lock in a special price. The 7E7 is a little over half composite and is the first passenger airliner to contain this much composite material. Boeing thru economies of scale is determining ways for robots to build the composite material to reduce costs in labor and to eliminate human error while standardizing perfect flawless manufacturing of less than one, one thousandth of an inch variance. This will allow a rivet free aircraft, save thousands of pounds and an unmatched smooth skin for absolute advantage in laminar airflows and reduction of parasite drag. Such precision has never up until now been achieved.
Composite material has also been used in pipelines due to its ability to go from hot to cold without the huge expansion and compression that exists with metallic pipes. With proper UV protective coatings it is the perfect material for such things. Boat hulls and ships with composite parts also can be great pluses and not have corrosion problems that occurs in salt water. Ship companies with composite component ships will find that their maintenance costs are reduced for corrosion control and the ships life will be increased. Metal fatigue will no longer be an issue either. Automobiles built with composite will be stronger and lighter, thus safer, longer lasting, more durable, better performance and better gas mileage. Bridges, structures, towers, antennas and buildings are all good uses of composite materials and often favored in the modern period. Skateboards, sporting equipment, mars rovers, street signs and flag poles can all benefit from the material characteristics of composite. Composite can also be manufactured on robotic assembly lines. Composite comes without the high costs of mining iron ore or precious metals.
Composite is an excellent material and makes a lot of sense really, but what about its other characteristics when it burns. What happens when a lightweight high performance 7E7 runs off the end of a runway and catches fire? What happens when a pipeline ruptures? Sure there will be less likelihood of sparks with such material but what do you do when there is? For instance landing gear hitting a fence and jet fuel leaking on hot engines? Will the passengers be safe once the fire starts emitting poison gasses? What about a pipeline made of composite material, which ruptures from an attack my International Terrorists? What about an auto accident with another car or truck with a steel bumper providing the sparks or a battery lead meeting up with fuel line rupture? Cars in accidents do not usually burn to the ground, but it does happen. Any attempt to rescue victims could result in death by cyanide gas, first responders will need to suit up prior to rescue adding to the critical time period to save the occupants. No one knows this better than US Military Airport firefighters who are trained for such things. The military has learned the hard way that new composite materials although with all their advantages also have some severe and potentially fatal characteristics as well? Ships with composite have incredible advantages to service life and maintenance costs, but a fire aboard would be difficult to fight and if out of control could be lethal to all aboard.
We need to study how to use material sciences to prevent the toxins produced by burning composite. A solution needs to be available which can be mixed in with the material during manufacturing and a coating applied in the hardening process along with special after post manufacturing ceramic coats of approximately 1-4 Mils in thickness for items which need to consider weight as a primary objective and 10-12 Mils in thickness for such things like automobiles, railings, decks, ship interiors, etc. For things such as railcars and pipelines where weight is fairly insignificant I propose 10-20 Mils of ceramic coating on all sides of the material, interior and exterior of surfaces. By doing this we can prevent unintended consequences when we are struck by Mother Nature, Murphy, dumb luck or even International Terrorists nuisances. Funding should be provided to Universities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, Georgia and Texas, which currently have material science degrees available so we can stay leading edge and cover all the bases. This research should be funded by the DOE, DARPA and DOT, we must accelerate this sector now to keep up with the advances and needs we will see in the next five years. We must look at manufacturing, coatings, composite useful life and all possible variations of composite material. I propose this be done to take us to the next step while insuring;
"Strength and Safety now and forever."
"Lance Winslow" - If you have innovative thoughts and unique perspectives, come think with Lance; www.WorldThinkTank.net/wttbbs