Thermoset polymers and composite materials are integral to today's aerospace, automotive, marine and energy industries and will be vital to the next generation of lightweight, energy-efficient structures in these enterprises, owing to their excellent specific stiffness and strength, thermal stability and chemical resistance 1-5 . The manufacture of high-performance thermoset components requires the monomer to be cured at high temperatures (around 180 °C) for several hours, under a combined external pressure and internal vacuum 6 . Curing is generally accomplished using large autoclaves or ovens that scale in size with the component. Hence this traditional curing approach is slow, requires a large amount of energy and involves substantial capital investment 6,7 . Frontal polymerization is a promising alternative curing strategy, in which a self-propagating exothermic reaction wave transforms liquid monomers to fully cured polymers. We report here the frontal polymerization of a high-performance thermoset polymer that allows the rapid fabrication of parts with microscale features, three-dimensional printed structures and carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer composites. Precise control of the polymerization kinetics at both ambient and elevated temperatures allows stable monomer solutions to transform into fully cured polymers within seconds, reducing energy requirements and cure times by several orders of magnitude compared with conventional oven or autoclave curing approaches. The resulting polymer and composite parts possess similar mechanical properties to those cured conventionally. This curing strategy greatly improves the efficiency of manufacturing of high-performance polymers and composites, and is widely applicable to many industries.
ASJC Scopus subject areas