Mechanical Behavior of Polymer Composites at Cryogenic Temperatures

  • Sanghamitra Sethi
  • Bankim Chandra RayEmail author


High specific strength, stiffness, excellent environmental fatigue resistance and low weight remain the winning alliance that impels fibrous composite materials into new arenas, but other properties are also equally important. Fibrous reinforced plastics (FRPs) offer good vibrational damping and a low coefficient of thermal expansion, characteristics that can be engineered for specialized applications. Commercial composites are used in large markets such as automotive components, boats, consumer goods, and corrosion-resistant industrial parts. Advanced composites, initially developed for military aerospace applications, offer performance superior to that of conventional structural metals and now find applications in satellites, aircraft, and sporting goods and in the energy sector in oil and gas exploration and wind turbine constructions. Cryogenic applications of polymeric fiber composites are mainly in superconductivity, space technology, and handling of liquefied gases. By contrast, because of the heterogeneous nature and anisotropic behavior of FRPs, a structural designer faces challenges in predicting the integrity and durability of FRP laminates during service periods. Polymer composites soften, creep, and distort when heated to high temperatures (>100 °C), accompanied by collapse of free volume as the molecular adjustments take place. This can result in buckling and failure of load-bearing composites structures. Severe environmental exposure affects the physical and mechanical properties of polymeric composite materials, resulting in an undesirable degradation and damage.

Cryogenic fuel tanks are the most common structural application of FRP at low temperatures. Expose to cryogenic temperatures can cause microcracks as well as delamination in the composites due to thermal residual stresses. These microcracks provide a pathway for the ingress of moisture or corrosive chemicals and are a possible pathway for loss of cryogenic fluids in the tanks. Matrix resins at low temperatures are brittle and do not allow relaxation of residual stresses or stress concentration to take place. At low temperatures, polymers are well below their glass transition temperature and show little viscoelastic behavior. Molecular motion of segments or side groups is still possible, but the degrees of freedom decrease with decreasing temperature. This motion influences the damping behavior of the polymers under cyclic mechanical load. If the temperature-dependent relaxation time of molecular motion is equal to the time of external deformation, maximum power dissipation occurs. Simultaneously, a change in the shear modulus is observed. The goal of this chapter is to extensively study the in-plane mechanical properties of FRP composites at cryogenic temperatures. The composites considered include carbon, glass, and Kevlar fiber-reinforced polymers with different resin matrices.


Polymer matrix composite Cryogenic temperature Failure and fracture Damage and degradation Mechanical properties Scanning electron microscope Interphase Atomic force microscope Alternating differential scanning calorimeter 



Atomic force microscope


Carbon fiber-reinforced plastic


Fibrous reinforced plastic


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy


Glass fiber-reinforced plastic


Interlaminar shear strength


Interpenetrating network


Polymer matrix composites


Scanning electron microscope


Glass transition temperature


Temperature-modulated differential scanning calorimetry



The authors would like extend sincere thanks and an appreciation to the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, India for supporting and funding instrumental facilities to carry out investigations on composite materials. We are indebted furthermore to the same for an extensive literature support from the library. It is also our privilege to acknowledge the devotion and dedication received from many graduate, undergraduate and doctoral students and scholars over the years. The investigation has also been funded from different sponsoring agencies.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Metallurgical and Materials EngineeringNational Institute of TechnologyRourkelaIndia

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