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Progress In Electromagnetics Research Symposium Proceedings, Moscow, Russia, August 1923, 2012 1013

Calculation of an Equivalent Electrical Conductivity Tensor for

Multidirectional Carbon Fiber Reinforced Materials
N. Athanasopoulos and V. Kostopoulos
Department of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics
University of Patras, Greece

Abstract The ability of carbon fibers to conduct electric current can be used in a plethora
of applications. Carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) can be divided into unidirectional and
multidirectional laminates. The electric conductivity of the unidirectional laminates presents
strong electric anisotropy and can be expressed by a symmetric, second order tensor. There is no
point in studying the electrical conductivity of CFRPs ignoring the microstructure of the material.
In order to consider a multi-layered material homogenous, it is of paramount importance that we
examine the intralaminar and interlaminar areas.
Using the continuity equation, it can be proved that the electric conductivity of the multidirectional laminates can also be expressed by a second order tensor (equivalent tensor). Therefore,
the electrical conductivity tensor of the CF preform can be calculated for any stacking sequence
assuming that the material is homogenous and that the plies thickness is negligible in comparison
to the other dimensions. The equivalent tensor can be imported into the elliptic partial differential
equation which is the governing equation for steady current in anisotropic media. Consequently,
the electric field and the current density can be calculated by solving the aforementioned elliptic
The validity of the equivalent tensor was confirmed by measuring the electrical resistivity of
the multidirectional laminates media for various multidirectional laminates (stacking sequences).
For a second confirmation the coupled thermo-electric problem was solved numerically using
as input material the calculated equivalent tensor. The calculated temperature field for each
multidirectional laminate was confirmed experimentally via a thermal camera.

The electric conductivity (EC) of unidirectional CFRP laminates has been thoroughly studied and
is dependant upon the fibre conductivity, fiber direction [1], fiber volume fraction [2] as well as the
temperature [3, 4] and the plies thickness [5]. In real structures, CFRPs consist of multidirectional
layers. The determination of the electric conductivity of the anisotropic multilayered material
is the most crucial factor for the calculation of the electric potential field, electric field and the
current density. Certain factors that are crucial as far as the electric field distribution is concerned,
are the following: the fibre volume fraction, as well as the material imperfections at a scale of
micrometers. All the above affect the electric field distribution at the microscopic level, resulting
in an obvious disturbance at the macroscopic level. In this study, we assume that the material
used is homogenous and anisotropic, hence it approximates the ideal anisotropic material. Also,
the layers thickness is negligible compared to the other dimensions (no electric potential gradient
through the layers thickness) and that the layers are in perfect contact with each other. This can
be achieved under certain conditions of temperature and pressure during the manufacturing stages
of the CFRP laminate.
Using optical microscopy, the intralaminar and interlaminar regions of the multi-layered CFRP
material can be examined and therefore we can decide whether the materials EC can be described
by the suggested equivalent second order tensor.

The authors have verified the EC of any dry CF multidirectional layered material can be expressed
by a second order tensor, which is derived from each layers tensor [6]. Assuming that the body
is thin (2D space), the EC tensor can be determined very simply by using the continuity equation
for anisotropic continuum media. The EC tensor that describes the new equivalent multilayered
material is composed of the EC tensors that describe each CF layer, separately. As it is well known,
the following equation, Equation (1) expresses the current conservation in a closed surface S for the
anisotropic body. Integrated Equation (1) over a control volume and using the Divergence theorem:
( J)dV =
J dS

PIERS Proceedings, Moscow, Russia, August 1923, 2012


The total current that passes through the surface SL (total cross section area) is equal to the sum
of the electric current that passes the cross section of each layer of the surface Sn , Fig. 1(a), where
n is the outward unit normal vector of the surfaces SL and Sn . Hence, the integral of the dot
product of the current density and the surface of the cross section expressed by Equation (2).
IL =







JL ndSL =




Jn ndSn


(JL1 i + JL2 j) ndSL

(Jn1 i + Jn2 j) ndSn


where JL1 is the current density that crosses the representative volume in the direction x1 , and JL2
is the current density that crosses the representative volume in the direction x2 .
Integrated Equation (2) over the thickness (H) and the width (W ) from W/2 to W/2 of
the representative volume and dividing by the total surface (SL1 = HW ) the current density at
direction x1 is given by Equation (3).
|JL1 | = 11
E1 + 12
E2 =

( n E1 + 12
E2 )
SL1 11



where Sn = hn W is the cross section surface of each layer. Following the same procedure and
integrating over the other side of the representative volume (from W/2 to W/2) then it is concluded
that the current density at direction x2 is given by Equation (4).
|JL2 | =



( n E1 + 22
E2 )
SL2 21



The total current density (JL ) is equal to JL = JL1 i+JL2 j. Based on Equation (3) and Equation (4)
the final expression of the equivalent EC tensor (L ) for the multidirectional laminate can be
expressed by Equation (5).


Sn 11
Sn 12
1 X
11 12

Sn L
L =
Sn 21
Sn 22

By combining layers of different direction, a new material is produced whose electric conductivity
depends on its layers electric conductivity. Fig. 2(b) demonstrates each layers EC tensor ellipse
(black line) for 0 fiber directions and (red line) for 30 fiber direction as well as the final materials
EC tensor ellipse (blue line) for stacking sequence (0/30/30/0). The eigenvalues as well as the
eigenvectors can be calculated as known. The equivalent EC tensor is valid only if the CFRP layers
are in perfect contact and the fiber volume fraction is high enough. The fiber volume fraction
of the laminate must be uniform at the intralaminar and interlaminar areas (detailed microscope
images, Fig. 1(a)). This uniformity can only be achieved by applying a specific temperature and
pressure profile during the CFRPs manufacturing stages, which will cause the rich-in-resin layer
to be diminished.

As far as a multilayered material is concerned and taking into account the second assumption
(no electric potential gradient through the thickness), the electric field distribution is a 3D space
problem. However, in the case where the plies thickness is small relatively to the other dimensions
the problem can be deduced to the 2D space, neglecting the plies thickness and the electrical
gradient through the thickness of the material. We studied the electric field distribution in multilayered materials of circular geometry by applying potential difference between the two concentric
circles of Fig. 2 (using Dirichlet boundary conditions). The results were compared to the respective
analytical 2D space problem solution. Two layers with EC tensors of 45 and 45 respectively,

Progress In Electromagnetics Research Symposium Proceedings, Moscow, Russia, August 1923, 2012 1015



Figure 1: (a) Elementary volume of the multidirectional laminates and the microstructure of the material
for two different pressure levels at manufacturing stage of the material, (b) eigenvalues and eigenvectors for
each CFRP layer and the new multidirectional CFRP material.







Figure 2: (a) Dimensionless electric potential field for circular domains as a function of layers thickness,
(b) absolute error between the numerical solution (3D space) and the (2D space) analytical solution, (c),
(d), (e), (f) comparison between numerical and analytical solutions as a function of ratio = Rmax /Rin for
layer thickness h = 0.05 mm.

produce a new multidirectional material of (45 ) with EC tensor of 45 . Considering that the
new material 45 can be expressed by a scalar quantity and not a tensor, we can calculate the
electric potential field distribution in polar coordinates using the Equation (6).

(r) = o ln
Rin /Rmax
The previously mentioned analytical solution is compared to the respective numerical solution in
3D space, for various thickness layers and various ratios ( = Rmax /Rin ) where () is the external
to internal radius of the domain.
Figure 2(a) demonstrates the electric potential field distribution as a function of the radius (r),

PIERS Proceedings, Moscow, Russia, August 1923, 2012










Figure 3: Numerical results and thermal camera images for two circular multidirectional CFRPs using the
equivalent EC tensor (Rmax /Rin = 4.5, Rmax = 157.5 mm, H = 0.726 mm, h = 0.121 mm). (a), (b) current
density, (c), (d) electric potential field (e), (f) calculated temperature field, (g), (h) measured temperature

for a ratio of = 8 and for various ply thicknesses. It can be observed that as the thickness reduces,
the numerical solution at the middle of the laminates approximates the analytical solution. It is
obvious in Fig. 2(b) that the error between the two curves for an internal radius (Rin ) tends to zero
for high ratios ( = Rmax /h where () is the external radius to the layer thickness).
Final, Figs. 2(c), (d), (e), and (f) demonstrate the electric potential in dimensionless form, as a
function of radius (r) for layer thickness h = 0.05 mm and = 8, 16, 24, 32 ratios. These diagrams
depict the electric potential at the region where maximum deviation from the analytical solution
can be observed. The curves coincide for ratios > 8. Therefore Equation (5) is valid when the
layer thickness is small and it is safe to say that the error tends to zero.

The electric potential field in anisotropic homogeneous media can be expressed by an elliptic partial
differential equation, Equation (7). The symmetry of the EC tensor is a consequence of the symmetry of the kinetic coefficients (Onsager theorem [7]). Since the EC tensor is symmetric (12 = 21 ),
the electric potential field satisfies the following simplified elliptic PDE.
(L ) = 0

12 =21



x1 x2


where (L ) is the EC tensor and () is the electric potential field. In the present work, the
thermoelectric effect is considered negligible. Using this assumption, the relation between the
current density (J) and the electric field for a homogeneous anisotropic conductor is expressed by
Equation (8).

J = L (E aT ) J = L E = L ()


The boundary conditions for the following problem are described by a first kind boundary condition
(Dirichlet boundary condition) at the d regions and by second kind boundary conditions (Neumann
boundary condition) at the s .
The indirect method for the validation of the tensor involved the use of a thermal camera.
We studied a circular domain with a symmetric stacking sequence (0/30/45)s and ratio ( =

Progress In Electromagnetics Research Symposium Proceedings, Moscow, Russia, August 1923, 2012 1017

Rmax /Rin = 4.5) using different boundary conditions (two cases, Figs. 3(a) and (b)). The electric
potential difference was applied at the edges of the circular domain. Then, certain numerical models
were developed in order to solve the electrical problem of an anisotropic continuum body as well
as to find the electric field distribution and the current density. Since the thermoelectric effect
has been omitted, then the generated heat per unit time and volume is the dot product of the
electric field and the current density. The dot product in a known domain , with given boundary
conditions, changes according to the EC tensor of the layered medium. Different stacking sequences
lead to different equivalent EC tensors. Thus, the resulting generated heat in the known domain is
also different.
Considering an elementary volume, the heat transfer energy equation of an anisotropic porous
medium is given by Equation (9) [8].
((1 )(c)f + (c)m )

= (kT ) + J E Q


where (k) is the thermal conductivity tensor and (1) is the fraction that is occupied by fibers, ()
losses ) is the energy losses through convection,
is the fraction that is occupied by matrix material, (Q
(c)f and (c)m denote the product of the density and specific heat capacity of the carbon fibers
and the matrix material respectively.
The measured temperature field Figs. 3(g) and (h) of each case was compared to the respective
numerically calculated, Figs. 3(e) and (f). For confrontation, the results will be presented in dimensionless form. More precisely, the electric potential field and the temperature field are presented
in dimensionless form, following the expression = /max and T = (T Tenv )/(Tmax Tenv )
respectively, Fig. 3.

The electric conductivity tensor of a multidirectional CFRP material can be expressed by a symmetric second order tensor which derives from the combination of each layers electrical conductivity
tensor, Equation (6). The above is valid in the case where the material is homogenous and the plies
thickness is negligible compared to the bodys other dimensions. If the applied pressure level is satisfactory during the materials manufacturing stages, the material could be assumed homogenous
and anisotropic. Applying electrical potential at the specimens inner and outer radius the temperature of the medium increase due to the Joule effect. The temperature field of the multilayered
medium depends on the EC tensor (stacking sequence of the CFRP) and the boundary conditions.
The calculated temperature field is in excellent agreement with the temperature measurements
using the thermal camera.

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PIERS Proceedings, Moscow, Russia, August 1923, 2012

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