Image of carbon fiber composites
A new method manufactures autoclave-formulated aerospace-grade advanced carbon fiber composites without utilizing applied pressure from an autoclave. Cross-sections of the composites show that a nanoporous film with morphology-controlled nanoscale capillaries provides the needed pressure at the interfaces in layered polymeric architectures. (Image courtesy of the researchers)

A modern airplane’s fuselage is made from multiple sheets of different composite materials that must be wheeled into warehouse-sized ovens where the layers fuse together to form a resilient, aerodynamic shell.

Engineers have developed a method to produce aerospace-grade composites without enormous ovens and pressure vessels. Instead of placing layers of material inside an oven to cure, the material is wrapped in an ultrathin film of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). When an electric current is applied to the film, the CNTs generated heat, causing the materials within to cure and fuse together.