Advanced thinking on lightweighting

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Sept. 16, 2014

Automobile industry executives are looking for more strategies on lightweighting to meet the country’s new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 2025.

So they are looking for new ideas, which earned a chemical engineering student at the Michigan State University College of Engineering a scholarship award for his research on advancing fiber-reinforced polymer composites.Markus Downey won a scholarship award and an opportunity to present his research at the 2015 SPE ACCE annual conference and exhibition.

Markus Downey, a third-year PhD student in chemical engineering, was one of three students recognized during the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE), hosted in Novi, Mich., Sept. 9-11.

His work, at the Composite Materials and Structures Center, is focused on the toughening of fiber-reinforced polymer composites by addressing two typical areas of failure. His adviser is University Distinguished Professor Lawrence Drzal.

“I am looking at hybrid-toughening of fiber-reinforced polymer composites by toughening the fiber/matrix interface with aliphatic epoxy co-polymers alone or in conjunction with graphene nanoplatelets,” he explained.

“Through targeted improvements of both the sizing (coating) on the reinforcing fibers and the surrounding polymer matrix, the energy required to propagate cracks in each of these areas should be increased to yield a substantially toughened composite,” he continued. “This, in turn, can help reduce the amount of material needed for a given application, leading to weight and cost savings.

“It could also broaden usage in new areas of the vehicle, particularly if the composite shows mechanical properties not previously attained,” he added.

Downey, Fatimat Oluwatoyin Bakare of the University of Borås, and Sebastian Goris of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, each received $2,000 and an invitation to present their research results at the 2015 SPE ACCE conference and exhibition. The scholarships are sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The SPE ACCE annual conference and exhibition draws more than 900 speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, and attendees and provides an environment dedicated solely to discussion and networking about advances in the transportation composites.

Markus Downey
Born in Providence, R.I., but growing up in Berlin, Germany, Downey has been internationally involved since birth. After finishing his German high school diploma, Downey went back to his home state of Rhode Island for college.

Downey earned a bachelor of arts degree in German and a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 2002. He stayed at URI and worked on fatigue life improvement of thermal spray instrumentation and thermal barrier coatings as part of his master’s degree in chemical engineering, which he was awarded in 2004.

After graduating, Downey spent eight years working in the exhaust gas after-treatment industry, the first two years of it in Germany with Emitec GmbH as a research engineer. He came to Michigan to work as a technical applications engineer for Emitec Inc. and successfully expanded the company’s large-engine and locomotive business.

Now residing in Haslett, Mich., he is a full-time student starting the third year of his PhD studies in chemical engineering at MSU, where he works in the MSU Composite Materials and Structures Center. His research focus is on toughening fiber-reinforced polymer composites and polymer nano composites for high-performance applications. He has published several papers in conference proceedings and has given presentations at technical conferences in the U.S. and China. He also is a U.S. patent holder.


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