Development of breakthrough material threatened as beleaguered airframer tightens purse strings on research

A breakthrough high-temperature composite technology risks being compromised by Airbus's squeeze on research as the beleaguered European airframer embarks on its recovery plan.

Toulouse-based BTS Industrie is seeking €2 million ($2.57 million) to bring a water-based composite to market as quickly as possible. Describing the composite as a "technological breakthrough", BTS chairman Christian Bec says the material can replace titanium as its unique thermal stability properties mean it can be used in structures near the engine, such as nacelles, with significant weight savings.

"The principal risk of failure would be a lack of funds for the adequate characterisation and certification of this new material," said Bec, speaking at the fifth Financing for Innovation and Competitiveness Forum in Toulouse, France earlier this month.

BTS, which tests, develops and produces equipment for industrial majors including EADS, developed the material with composites expert Didier Belair. In June, Bec says, the new material was tested to 1,200e_SDgrC (2,192°F) for 15min - conventional composite materials typically have a 300°C limit. "The material did not budge an iota," he says. "Airbus had never seen anything like it before."

Airbus and BTS submitted a joint patent in August and, in parallel, signed a development agreement. BTS also secured a €1 million award under the Epicea regional strategic technology programme. Bec says the material can be used anywhere in an aircraft, as it is a water-based composite which does not release toxic vapour.

BTS has no funds to cover the research costs, says Bec. "We want to refine the ageing characteristics and production process to allow us to certify as quickly as possible. Airbus has told us it does not have the money to invest in this at the moment, and we also want to find different applications such as its use in space and military aerostructures."

Source: Flight International