Feeds

Scientists spin carbon nanotube threads on industrial scale

Stronger than steel, conductive as copper, thinner than human hair

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

An international team of scientists has successfully found a way to spin tens of millions of carbon nanotubes into a flexible conductive thread that's a quarter of the thickness of human hair.

"We finally have a nanotube fiber with properties that don't exist in any other material," said lead researcher Matteo Pasquali of Rice University. "It looks like black cotton thread but behaves like both metal wires and strong carbon fibers."

The thread has ten times the tensile strength of steel and is as conductive as copper, but is flexible enough to be wound around a spool or woven. The team envisages it being used in "smart" clothing and the aerospace industry, and says that its properties will be of particular use to electronics manufacturers.

"Metal wires will break in rollers and other production machinery if they are too thin," he said. "In many cases, people use metal wires that are far more thick than required for the electrical needs, simply because it's not feasible to produce a thinner wire. Data cables are a particularly good example of this."

The thread is the result of nearly a decade of research at Rice, which initially focused on extruding nanotubes of a uniform type without them clumping together into weak, poorly connective bundles. Nanotubes come in many forms with different properties, and the team needed to get a uniform production process to get a material than behaved consistently.

The next step was finding a way to produce and manipulate the nanotubes in a practical industrial volume. In 2009, a student made a key breakthrough by discovering a way to suspend them in fluid so that they could be spun like thread.

"Until that time, no one thought that spinning out of chlorosulfonic acid was possible because it reacts with water," Pasquali said. "A graduate student in my lab, Natnael Bahabtu, found simple ways to show that CNT fibers could be spun from chlorosulfonic acid solutions. That was critical for this new process."

A thread of woven carbon nanotubes

An electron microscope shows the tightly packed tubes

This discovery allowed the process to be upscaled to industrial levels of output. Chlorosulfonic acid is fairly nasty stuff, but considerably easier to handle than some of the chemicals used to make chips, and the spinning process can produce a steady thread of reliable material.

The process is described in a paper published by Rice researchers in the journal Science, joined by scientists from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and Dutch manufacturer Teijin Aramid. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.