Rapid Manufacturing of Multifunctional Composites

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a novel technique for rapid, cost-effective manufacturing of multifunctional composites using a combination of triggered polymerization of thermoset resins and Joule heating of nanostructured films embedded in the composite layup.  As a result, a new generation of composites have been developed that are lightweight, cure rapidly with minimal energy input, and display multiple novel functionalities.


Fiber-reinforced polymer composite (FRPC) materials are integral to aerospace, automotive, marine, sport, and energy industries as well as the next generation of lightweight, energy-efficient structures, owing to their excellent specific stiffness and strength, thermal stability, and chemical resistance. However, widespread, and economical adoption of FRPCs is currently limited, mainly due to the existing, inefficient manufacturing processes.

Conventional manufacture of high-performance FRPC components requires the matrix thermoset resin to be cured at elevated temperatures (ca. 180 °C) for several hours under combined external pressure and internal vacuum using large autoclaves or ovens that scale in size with the component. This traditional manufacturing approach is slow, requires a large amount of energy, and involves significant capital investment, leading to a high cost of manufacturing and low production rates. Moreover, lack of all key functional properties required for a structural system (e.g. electrical and thermal conductivity, damage, and impact tolerance) often results in suboptimal structural design and performance of FRPCs.


To create these novel materials,  composite laminates are manufactured using new resin chemistries that are stable at room temperature and exhibit long working times (>5hours) but can rapidly polymerize when the resin temperature is increased above a critical value (40 ‐ 50°C).  Upon infusion of the resin into the stack of fiber reinforcements, there action is activated through the thickness of the laminate via a thin, nanostructured heater film (e.g. carbon nanotube sheet) embedded as the outer most layer of the laminate (Figure1).

Figure 1.  Schematic representation of the manufacturing technique.  Following the infusion of a heat‐triggerable resin into the layup, a thin heater film embedded as the outer most layer of the composite laminate activates the polymerization reaction in the resin, which will then rapidly polymerize with minimal energy input.  The integrated heater is useful following the manufacturing process for thermal regulation of the composite laminate for anti‐icing and/or de‐icing of composite structures.


  • Eliminates ovens or autoclaves and transfers the heat directly to the material instead of heating the entire volume of oven/autoclave
  • Significantly reduces both the time and energy requirements of composite manufacturing
  • Integration of very thin heater films creates a conductive layer that can also be used for de-icing applications
  • Vascular networks allow for controllable delivery of functional fluids to impact smart functions to the produced such as transportation


  • Manufacturer of large-scale composite components
  • Anti-icing and De-icing applications
  • Aerospace and automotive
  • Energy sector (e.g. wind turbines)
Last Updated: August 2022


IP Status

US Utility Patent Pending

Reference Number
Licensing Manager

Jessy McGowan