Friday, January 11, 2013
t’s been a long time coming, but scientists are at the cusp of realizing the dream of carbon nanotubes.
What’s the dream?
A low-weight material that’s as strong as steel, as electrically conductive as copper and conducts heat like metal. It’s like Spidey silk, only better.
Such a material would open up a new realm of engineering properties, for everything from common wiring to spacecraft hulls.
Scientists have long recognized the potential in single-walled carbon nanotubes — but they’ve been expensive to make in quantity and quality, and it’s been difficult to connect the tiny, micron-long tubes into longer, useful fibers.
Now, in a new paper in the journal Science (see abstract), Rice scientists say they’ve devised a new carbon nanotube fiber that looks and acts like textile thread and conducts electricity and heat like a metal wire. The process of creating these fibers also appears to be scalable, which means it shouldn’t be too difficult for industry to make them.
“It’s a known technology to scale this,” Matteo Pasquali, a Rice professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, told me.
The feedstock and chemicals used to make these fibers are also relatively common, meaning that once a manufacturing process is put in place, the carbon-base materials and catalysts aren’t expensive. Pasquali is working with the Dutch firm Teijin Aramid to make this happen.
The new material is not quite the perfect carbon nanotube fiber: it’s stronger than steel; it’s thermal conductivity is much better than aluminum or copper, but it’s not quite as electrically conductive as aluminum or copper. But he said there’s still room for improvement.
The bottom line is that it’s resilient, conducts electricity and dissipates heat. Yeah, I think in the 21st century, a world of iPhones and Dreamliners, we might have use for a material like that.
- Nanotube fibers have unmatched combination of strength, conductivity, flexibility (rdmag.com)
- Nanotubes Turned Into Super Fibers (technologyreview.com)
- New nanotech fiber: Robust handling, shocking performance (eurekalert.org)