Harvey leads award-winning team to SERDP Project-of-the-Year

Harvey leads award-winning team to SERDP Project-of-the-YearBy STACIE BAILEY, NAWCWD Public Affairs

In 2012, Dr. Benjamin Harvey and his team at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, along with collaborators from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base and the Naval Research Laboratory, were awarded a four-year grant from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program to develop high-temperature polymers and composites from renewable sources.

The project, “Cyanate Ester Composite Resins Derived from Renewable Polyphenol Sources,” was so successful that on Dec. 6, 2016, the team was honored with SERDP’s 2016 Project-of-the-Year Award for Wea-pons Systems and Platforms.

“I was very pleased and excited when I found out,” Harvey said. “We’ve had the opportunity to publish and patent a lot of paradigm-changing work in this field, but none of it would have been possible without my colleagues, the support of management and the opportunity afforded by SERDP.”

Composite materials made by combining a thermosetting resin with a rigid structural component, like carbon fiber, are widely used by the Department of Defense in place of metal or ceramic materials because of their ability to reduce weight and fuel usage. In many cases, these composites are stronger, more durable and less susceptible to corrosion than engineering metals, leading to longer life cycles and decreased maintenance costs.

The issue, Harvey explained, is that thermosetting resins are derived from petroleum resources by unsustainable, energy-intensive, multistep methods that use substantial amounts of organic solvents.

To combat this problem, he and his project team are using a bio-synthetic approach based on molecules like vanillin, the main component of vanilla extract, which can be produced from wood, and resveratrol, an antioxidant present in grape skins, red wine and blueberries. These natural compounds can then be converted to thermosetting resins like cyanate esters through efficient, high-throughput chemistry.

“This program has shown that ‘bio-derived’ and ‘high performance’ are not mutually exclusive terms,” said Harvey. “Several of the resins developed in this project outperform conventional resins derived from petroleum.”

According to Harvey, the bio-synthetic approach has the potential to offer a virtually unlimited supply of sustainable, low toxicity, bio-based polyphenols and resins for both DOD and commercial use.

Beyond the small-scale synthesis of new bio-derived molecules, Harvey and his team have fabricated and tested flat panels made with carbon fiber, glass or quartz impregnated with the resins.

They have also developed new bulk molding compounds that can be fabricated into virtually any shape. Using this approach, the team has successfully fabricated a part that acts as a connector for a nozzle and missile case.

Harvey, a classically trained inorganic/ organometallic chemist, said,“When I started working here as a postdoctoral fellow in 2006, I never thought I’d be working with bio-based polymers, but our mission is to support the warfighter and this work has the potential to make a real impact.”

For more details on Harvey’s project, see https://serdp-estcp.org/News-and-Events/Blog/Cyanate-Ester-Composite-Resins-Derived-from-Renewable-Polyphenol-Sources.

Pictured: Dr. Benjamin Harvey

Story First Published: 2017-02-10