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Will Carbon Fiber ‘Lego Bricks’ Build Airplanes of the Future?

airplaneMIT engineers have developed carbon fiber “Lego bricks” — interlocking blocks that can be used to build large structures — that are 10 times stiffer than comparable lightweight materials, ExtremeTech reports.

The online technology publication says robots could mass-produce these carbon fiber blocks, which could then be used to build airplanes, rocket fuselages, wings and bridges, among other things.

Unlike other structures made from composite materials, objects made from MIT’s new bricks can be disassembled easily, and individual bricks can be replaced when they break, according to ExtremeTech.

Researchers say structures made out of these bricks can withstand 12.3 megapascals of compressive force (pressure), with a very low density of 7.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter. MIT says this is 10 times stiffer than other materials of the same density.

The carbon fiber bricks have another advantage over other composite materials, ExtremeTech reports. Usually, carbon fiber, glass fiber and other composites are fashioned into huge pieces — like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner composite fuselage, for example. This presents a problem because it’s not only hard and expensive to build something that big, but it’s also difficult to fix any damage. MIT’s bricks, on the other hand, can be replaced if damaged.

BMW’s new i3 electric car, introduced earlier this month and available in European and US markets in fall 2013, includes a passenger cell is constructed of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, which is 50 percent lighter than steel and 30 percent lighter than aluminum. The vehicle total weight is about 2,700 lbs., BMW says.

BMW and Boeing formed a strategic partnership in December to research carbon fiber recycling and share information about carbon fiber materials and manufacturing.

Earlier this year, Owens Corning, BASF and TenCate Advanced Composites agreed to work together to develop thermoplastic composites for the mass production of automobiles in an effort to make vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient.

Photo Credit: Kuster & Wildhaber Photography via Flickr



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