Principal investigator: Andrew Magenau

University: Drexel University

Industry partners: The Boeing Company

Adhesives are a central aspect of nearly all manufacturing and assembly processes, generating $14.5 billion in revenue within the U.S. alone. Despite the vast implementation of polymer adhesives, they remain a bottleneck in many manufacturing processes because polymer substrates are inherently difficult to adhere, often requiring expensive pretreatment and mechanical fastening, or the process of adhesion requires specialized equipment, high temperatures, and prolonged cure times. We propose a versatile adhesion process that can be conducted rapidly, within hours, under ambient conditions and low temperatures without the need for specialized equipment or complicated curing processes. Our adhesive system functions through custom alkylborane initiators which can generate strong, covalent bonds that molecularly bind commodity and aerospace-grade substrates together. Alkylboranes uniquely operate at room-temperature and tolerate oxygen under ambient condition unlike similar reaction systems, and generate highly reactive species which allow molecular-level adhesion to polymer substrates. Not only does the proposed project have technological value in improving adhesion and minimizing manufacturing costs, but this adhesion technology will provide, for the first time, high operation temperature acrylic-based adhesives suitable for temperatures up to 130C. Preliminary results validate that the proposed adhesion platform is effective through successful adhesion of polypropylene substrates under ambient conditions and at room-temperature, providing comparable adhesion properties to the existing epoxy-based adhesives. Our proposal team is uniquely situated to accomplish the proposed work, drawing polymer and alkylborane expertise from the principal investigator at Drexel University and processing and adhesion expertise from Boeing engineers. Furthermore, an interactive and collaborative environment is planned between Boeing and the principal investigator’s undergraduate and graduate team through in-person visits to both locations and regular conference calls to facilitate student training in applied research, industrial exposure, and the retention of talented scientists in Pennsylvania’s workforce.