This SBIR Phase I project will develop lightweight, high-strength aluminum-based structural components derived from a facile manufacturing process. In previous work, large volumetric fractions of Au, Ag, and Cu nanoparticles (NPs) were incorporated into a porous aramid nanofiber (ANF) matrix to realize films that have high electrical conductivity, yet maintain superior mechanical strength, properties that are usually hard to achieve simultaneously. Furthermore, the composite films demonstrate excellent flexibility, which is superior to other related classes of reported flexible conductors including carbon based nanomaterials (CNTs and graphene) and other metallic materials. The unique network structure enables high electrical conductivity and robust mechanical behavior of the metal-ANF films. Most pertinently for mass-restrictive applications, we previously demonstrated that copper-ANF composites had ~90 % less mass density than solid copper, but with electrical properties (conductivity, ampacity) that were at least 33 % of the bulk value. During Phase I, we will extend the material system to aluminum structural components that are relevant to sample-return missions that require mass-efficient materials. We will first find the lower limits of achievable mass that still provides acceptable conductivity, ampacity, and strength in both cylindrical and polygonal cross-sectional solids. We will then characterize the conductive and insulating properties of self-insulated solids, in which the ANF can be functionalized with various levels of conductivity. We can control the optical properties of the Al-ANF composite by modifying the surface plasmon resonance of the aluminum NPs, knowledge that will be used to make solids of various optical properties. Finally, we will design manufacturing tools to scale-up the production of the solids.
The high-strength, reduced mass conductor material modality is multi-use and cross-cutting for a broad range of NASA mission applications, whether that includes hybrid electric aeronautical craft or spacecraft. For space applications, the innovation can be used for sample-return spacecraft bodies, planetary surface power, large-scale spacecraft prime power, small-scale robotic probe power, and small-sat power. For aeronautical applications, the low-mass wiring can efficiently distribute power to aircraft propulsors with minimal mass overhead.
Lightweight metals can substantially impact the terrestrial electric vehicle and power-transmission markets. Energy storage systems must be flexible, robust, lightweight, and exhibit superior electrochemical activity. Furthermore, robust, flexible conductors are needed to meet the rapidly growing demand in smart sensors, roll-up displays, and other applications with unconventional form factors.