Accelerated environmental degradation of GRP composite materials.
The use of fibre reinforced polymer composites and development of structural composites has expanded rapidly in the Southern African region over the past ten years. The long-term effect of placing these materials outdoors in the Southern African climate is unknown with exposure data for these materials being primarily European and North American based. This study intends to take a broad-based study to the problem of environmental degradation of advanced composite structures. This work is intended to study different degradation mechanisms. Work performed includes: a study of literature on degradation and protective measures; identification of dominant degradation mechanisms; manufacture of specimens; accelerated environmental testing; and an assessment of the effect of the exposure on the chemical properties The goal of this work is to produce information, which can be subsequently used to determine the rate of damage, methods of suitable protection and necessary maintenance intervals for polymer composite components. The approach was: to simulate outdoor exposure within a reduced period of time; to establish correlation of results with actual outdoor exposure; and to determine how the gel coats compare with other protective methods. As part of the objectives of the study (i.e. to assess the durability of polymer matrix composites materials subjected to environmental exposure), an experimental study was carried out to establish the durability of specific gel coats against ultraviolet (DV) and moisture degradation. An investigation of the effectiveness of the various protective measures has begun with a review of selected gel coats available as a protective coating. Laminates with these gel coats have been set up for both accelerated and natural exposure tests. 3000, 2500, 2000, 1600, and 800 hours of accelerated DV exposure tests were performed on polyester GRP laminates with gel coats. No measurable strength loss occurred on protected laminates; there was significant increase in yellowness on un-protected laminates; all protected specimens showed a fair retention of gloss; fibre prominence occurred on unprotected laminates; and the glass transition of samples had dropped from the normal polyester glass transition temperature range.