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Research project: Novel co-blended polymer matrix systems for fire resistant structural marine composites

Currently Active: 

EPSRC funded Grant number EP/H020926/1 ~ £340,000

What can be done to prevent incidents like this?
Motor yacht on fire

Research Problem

Fibre reinforced polymer composite materials are a very attractive solution to producing lightweight structures.  With increasing pressure on efficient operation and reduced fuel consumption, the marine industry see composites as an ideal material for future sustainability.  For commercial shipping the safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations prevent the use of composites due to their poor fire performance.  Polymer resins, which bind the fibre reinforcements together, are commonly made from hydrocarbon derived substances.  Therefore, polymer composite materials have a tendency to burn and produce toxic smoke whilst burning.

Traditional Solutions

Similar to the construction industry where the protection of the building is of utmost importance, preventing a ship or boat from burning is an ideal.  A common solution in the marine industry is the application of bulky fire protection layers on top of the material to protect it from the effects of fire.  This has implications on internal space, the expense of installation and most importantly the additonal weight which can eliminate the weight saving from using composite materials  The ideal solution would be a resin system that has inherent fire retardant properties.

Predicting fill times of moulds
Predicting fill times of moulds

Our Solution

This project aims to develop novel co-blended polymer resin systems for use in marine composites.  The co-investigators, from Bolton University and representatives from the polymer resin  industry have been working on the blending of traditional and industry standard polyester resin systems with fire retardant resins to create a co-blended resin system.  One of the challenges of doing this is the procassibility of the material.  The marine industry commonly uses room temperature curing systems for the relatively large structures such as hulls and decks.  Conversely, parts manufactured from fire retardant systems require high-temperature curing processes.  The combination of these resins results in processing challenges.  These have been addressed by Bolton University and Southampton have successfully manufactured large panels using the co-blended resin.  An assessment was undertaken at the University of Southampton into the process parameters for the resin infusion manufacturing technique commonly used in the marine industry for the new resins.  This has involved both infusion and cure monitoring.  Sensors, imbedded in the reinforcement prior to manufacture, monitor the resin as it is infused into the fibres.  The sensors then monitor the cure of the polymer resin.  A series of tests are now being conducted on both resin and composite samples to investigate the influence of temperature on the material properties.  The next stage of this exciting project is to subject panels to a fire environment and compare the performance of a standard polyester resin based panel with that manufactured using the co-blended resin.

Research Collaborators
Research Collaborators

Research Collaborators

This project is jointly investigated with the University of Bolton.  In addition there are a range of industrial supporters from materials manufacture, regulatory bodies and end-users.  Links to the research collaborator websites is given below


University of Bolton - Fire Materials Group

Scott Bader

sbhpp (Sumitomo Bakelite)


Lloyd's Register

British Marine Federation

Maritime Coastguard Agency

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Related research groups

Maritime Engineering
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