Cone Calorimeter and Thermogravimetric Analysis of Glass Phenolic Composites Used in Aircraft Applications

  • Vasiliki Papadogianni
  • Alexandros Romeos
  • Athanasios Giannadakis
  • Konstantinos Perrakis
  • Thrassos PanidisEmail author


The increasing use of composite materials in aircraft cabins and structures poses significant challenges in order to maintain and improve the fire safety of aviation. In this work, the flammability characteristics of a commercial glass-fibre reinforced phenolic composite (GFRP) used for aircraft cabin partitions and furnishing are investigated experimentally. Thermogravimetric analysis under inert atmosphere at several heating rates provided information on the thermal decomposition process. The degradation process is modelled with one and two-step mechanisms using the Ozawa–Flynn–Wall iso-conversional method and the GPYRO numerical code which utilizes a genetic algorithm optimization scheme. The estimated activation energy and pre-exponential factor values, especially in the two-step case (77.18 and 104.69 kJ/mol and 2.60 × 106 and 3.19 × 106 min−1 for the first and the second step respectively), recover reasonably well the conversion degree and its derivative. Tests with a cone calorimeter (CC), performed at different incident heat fluxes, provided information on the reaction to fire characteristics of the material and the influence of the heat flux on the combustion process. In general, combustion proceeds in two stages, flaming and smoldering combustion. The CC results assisted by scanning electron microscopy photos provide information on the charring characteristics of the material. The critical heat flux for ignition and the corresponding ignition temperature are estimated, correlating heat fluxes with time to ignition. Thermally thin and thick models are considered, as well as a modified technique bridging the gap between these limit cases and therefore valid for thermally thin and thick but also intermediate conditions (more pertinent in the present case). The results for this latter approach are \(\dot{q}^{\prime\prime}_{ig,cr}\) ~ 20 kW/m2 and Tig = 469°C, providing also complementing information on thermophysical properties, such as thermal diffusivity, α = 1.23 × 10−7 m2/s, thermal conductivity, k = 0.325 W/(m K) and specific heat capacity, c = 1.330 kJ/(kg K). This work provides information on the reaction to fire characteristics of GFRP, but also on physical and flammability properties in a form suitable to be used in numerical codes, for the prediction of fire and evacuation scenarios. The influence of the reinforcement structure on the fire behaviour of the composite is also illustrated and discussed.


Cone calorimeter Thermogravimetric analysis Flammability properties Glass phenolic Aircraft materials 



Pre-exponential factor (min−1)


Conversion degree (–)


Specific heat (kJ/kg K)


Activation energy (J/mol)


Thermal conductivity (kW/m K)


Critical heat flux (kW/m2)


External heat flux (kW/m2)


Intercept heat flux (kW/m2)


Initial temperature (K)


Ignition temperature (K)


Ignition time (s)



Thermal diffusivity (m2/s)


Rate of temperature increase (K/s)


Latent heat of gasification (kJ/kg)


Sample thickness (m)


Thermal depth (m)


Emissivity (–)


Density (kg/m3)


Stefan–Boltzmann constant (W/m2K4)





Intercept on the external heat flux axis



The research leading to these results has received funding from the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7 Transport/2007–2013) of the European Commission, under Grant Agreement No 265612, Project: Fire risks assessment and increase of passenger survivability (AircraftFire). The authors would also like to thank the Laboratory of Electron Microscopy and Microanalysis (L.E.M.M.) of University of Patras and its staff for producing the SEM pictures in this work.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Applied Thermodynamics, Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics DepartmentUniversity of PatrasRio-PatrasGreece

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