ITA Wins First Prize in the 2012 "NRW Inventing the Future" Competition


The scientists Dr. Michael Glowania and Professor Thomas Gries from the RWTH Institute of Textile Technology (ITA) have found that with a thermal conductivity of more than 27 W/mk, pitch-based carbon fibers arranged in a honeycomb structure conduct heat as well as alloyed steel. For this discovery, they now received the first prize in the “NRW Inventing the Future” 2012 competition. This development can be seen as a quantum leap in lightweight construction: Now, important industrial sectors such as the automotive, aerospace and mechanical engineering industries are able to produce low-density components with high thermal conductivity out of carbon fibers and polymers.

  The Winnerst of the First Prize at the Award Ceremony © Provendis The Winners of the First Prize (from left): Prof. Robert Schmitt (RWTH), Prof. Thomas Gries (ITA), Svenja Schulze, Dr. Michael Glowania (ITA)

This can result in a significant weight reduction compared to the use of conventional metal components - a great step towards reducing energy consumption and costs, as lighter cars and aircraft consume less fuel than heavier ones.

Further Uses and Advantages

The temperature stability of the new material can reach about 180 degrees Celsius; it can be profitably used wherever lightweight construction and high thermal conductivity are essential. It weighs less than aluminum, and it can be employed in the construction of cars and aircraft, e.g. for battery cooling elements in electric cars or for helicopter empennages.

New Lightweight Approach for Industrial Use

As is widely known, well-aligned, pitch-based carbon fibers have a high thermal conductivity, which is almost twice as high as that of copper, a very good heat conductor. So far, however, there was a problem in processing these fibers, as they were prone to breaking and thus becoming unusable. Dr. Glowania and Professor Gries now were able to address this problem in three steps:

  1. They found a way to enhance the processing of the ultra-high modulus fibers, an extremely brittle material with an elasticity modulus of 950 GPa.
  2. They were able to align the fibers within the component in the thickness direction, achieving a directional heat conduction that is efficient and saves costs.
  3. They modified the insulating polymer matrix in which the carbon fibers are embedded, thus achieving a higher heat conduction.

As the awardees explain: “We are positive that we have found a new lightweight approach that enhances a broad range of industrial applications. The patenting processhas identified good market opportunities for our invention. We are looking forward to its implementation.”

The "NRW Inventing the Future" Competition

The "NRW Inventing the Future NRW" Competition ("ZukunftErfindenNRW") is annually awarded for outstanding innovations by the NRW Ministry for Innovation, Science, and Research and Provendis, the patent marketing agency for universities in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is worth 41000 Euros. Other winners in the 2012 competition are teams from TU Dortmund University, the University of Bonn, and the University of Applied Scienes Südwestfalen.