A journey from lightweighting to circular materials design
Working as a dental technician early in her career, Dr Claudia Creighton developed a fascination with the materials she was working with and wanted to learn more. It was her first introduction to the world of materials and an experience that ended up changing her career trajectory entirely.
Now, an accomplished senior research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Materials, Dr Creighton specialises in carbon fibre and composites and has worked with some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Boeing and Ford – a far cry from her early career in a dental laboratory.
Starting her research career in her homeland of Germany, Dr Creighton returned to university to study materials engineering and in her spare time worked at a research institute where she eventually met a colleague who had come from Deakin University.
“For my internship, as part of my degree, I wanted to gain experience in advanced manufacturing in an English speaking country,” she says.
“I considered opportunities in Scandinavia and UK but then applied at Deakin, Australia, which was the dream – and I was given a scholarship for an internship – that was when I first touched on composites.”
Dr Creighton was eventually invited back to Deakin University to commence her PhD in 2007 and has since built her career at IFM, contributing to the growth of Carbon Nexus.
Now working in the area of carbon fibres and composites she specialises in composites manufacturing and lightweighting in aerospace, automotive and wind turbine industries, with a more recent focus on the implementation of circular economy principles into carbon fibre manufacturing and material recovery from end-of-life (EoL) composite products.
“Initially, what was driving research for years was composites processing and integration of composite materials into aircraft and automotive structures for light-weighting, and therefore reduced fuel consumption,” she says.
“But that global focus has changed to a more circular economy and now we are drawing our attention to the global challenge of closing the loop for composite materials.
Her work over the past 15 years has not gone unnoticed – her research team has won an International JEC Innovation Award (2016) and was awarded the Deakin University Vice Chancellor Award for Industry Engagement in 2016 and 2017.
What is your current focus?
My more recent work is dedicated to identifying pathways to recover carbon fibre for reuse or repurpose to reduce their environmental impact.
At Carbon Nexus I am working with a team of chemists, materials scientists and engineers on a number of exciting projects covering multiple aspects of circular economy, including a project with VESTAS on the recovery of carbon fibres at high-value from EoL wind turbine blades and support the company’s target to achieve zero-waste by 2040. Other projects involve the development of more sustainable carbon fibres from textile waste and bio-based, renewable resources as well as the life cycle assessment (LCA) of carbon fibre production.
What makes you passionate about this area?
I have a great passion in materials research towards a more circular economy, where materials waste is eliminated and resources are circulated. Avoiding waste and recycling, let it be an industry challenge or practised in my own home, has always interested me.
What has driven you to research in this area?
My time at Airbus Helicopter, Germany, has inspired me to continue working in the field of carbon fibre composites across other industry sectors. Over time, the demand for more sustainable materials and the need for companies to shift their focus on circularity and waste reduction has driven me to this research area that aligns well with IFM’s priorities of re-designing materials for a circular economy.
Why is your research important and how will it make a difference?
By using more sustainable resources and designing materials for reuse, not only less waste will be generated going into landfill, but also emissions created by producing new materials will be reduced. With the aim to reduce economic impacts from the initial phase through to the end-of-life of a composite product, this research will contribute to a more sustainable future for next generations to come.