Nanocomp graphic of target applications
“The trick is that our nanotubes are much longer than usual – millimetres in length rather than micrometres,” says Peter Antoinette, who heads the company.
Antoinette says that using longer nanotubes allows them to bind together more effectively. Although Nanocomp has not revealed precise details of its manufacturing process, it has disclosed that the tubes are made through chemical vapour deposition, which involves condensing carbon out of a gas.
The resulting nanotubes form a kind of unwoven matting, which is treated chemically so that the tubes are aligned, giving the material has extra strength in the direction of alignment.
The company’s prototype production method can make sheets roughly 1 metre by 3 metres, but it hopes to be able to make bigger sheets within a year or so. The company can also make nanotube thread by spinning nanotubes during chemical vapour deposition, instead of simply letting them settle.
David Lashmore, the company’s co-founder and chief technical officer, says the textile is seven times stronger than steel of the same weight.
The US Army’s Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts, US, which part-funds Nanocomp, hopes to use the textile to reduce the weight of bulletproof armour and make it better at resisting heat. Antoinette also suggests that aerospace companies might reduce the weight of aircraft by replacing conventional wiring with nanotube threads.
This is still fourteen times weaker than the 100 times stronger than steel potential of carbon nanotubes.
Superthread fibers may be far closer to full strength carbon nanotubes Others are also working on carbon nanotube textiles such as Rice University.