Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Composites for artificial muscle and skin

Nanotube composites can generate more than an order of magnitude improvement in the longitudinal modulus (up to 3300%) as well as damping capability (up to 2100%). It is also observed that composites with a random distribution of nanotubes of same length and similar filler fraction provide three times less effective reinforcement in composites.

Jonghwan Suhr,an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said his study of continuous reinforced carbon nanotube composites brings him a step closer to his hope of bio-mimicking artificial muscles or skins, which can be applied to a wide variety of fields.

In addition, the continuous composites are lightweight, flexible, have mechanical robustness, outstanding fatigue resistance, electrical and thermal conductivities and also has tissue-like behavior, Suhr said.

While Suhr is interested in the mechanical uses for the composite, he is also exploring the use of the composite for mimicking muscle tissue. Suhr is currently working with the aircraft company, Boeing, to investigate creating artificial skin made from continuous reinforced carbon nanotube composites for wing structures of unmanned air vehicles. Suhr said he hopes the artificial skin on unmanned air vehicles will decrease wind resistance to the vehicle, which will result in energy efficiency. Suhr also hopes to develop artificial skin to apply to wind turbine blades to increase energy efficiency for the renewable energy systems.

Suhr’s plan for the new composite also includes biological applications. He hopes to make the inactive material electro active. This would eliminate the need for many mechanical parts in a mechanism.

“This fascinating soft tissue-like material can be made into an electroactive polymer,” Suhr said. “So that we don’t have to add mechanical motors, which is typically heavy. So maybe we can develop bio-mimicking artificial muscles using this material.”

Suhr and his colleagues’ advance in creating a new nanotube composite material lead to a new frontier in nanotechnology. It makes Suhr’s future plans in mimicking muscles and producing new mechanical and structural applications possible.

“We need new material to break through our state of art technology,” Suhr said. “There are many interesting nanomaterials whose properties have not been fully understood yet. We may want to explore them and understand the fundamentals so as to be utilized for emerging applications such as next generation aircraft or alternative energy systems.”

8 thoughts on “Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Composites for artificial muscle and skin”

  1. There could also be wear out problems with the hydrate similar to those in a lead acid battery.

    The dehydrated uranium must be kept available for rehydration. It can’t clump at the bottom of the vessel.

    Electrostatic shields are wonderful things. Explain again how they will stop x-rays, gammas, and neutrons.

    Using reaction mass as shielding is a good idea. If it was also a deliverable like water it could serve double duty.

  2. The reactor does not exist yet. They have just announced that they are working on it. They are talking 2012 for the first one to get finished.

    However, it is just another solid core nuclear reactor. I do not see why other nuclear reactor designs and solid core rockets would work and this would not. There have been other nuclear thermal spacecraft designs using similar technology. I am just choosing to pair the reactor with the Vasimr plasma drive instead of using direct nuclear propulsion systems. It is nuclear electric powering a vasimr drive.

    The patent indicated that if they used thorium hydrate then the reactor would run at about 1900 degrees, which could be better for nuclear power system for a rocket. However, they are first working on uranium hydrate.

    I have not done any detailed design for this system, but there is not that much about it that is that novel compared to other nuclear reactor for space rocket designs. The main novelties – no people needed to tend the nuclear reactor – it keeps a constant temperature by itself – it is simple and presumably easier to build and maintain – less waste than many other systems. Heat piping, radiation shielding, heat radiators, conversion of the steady state heat to electricity are all things that can be tweaked based on the application and which can be cribbed from past nuclear rocket designs.

  3. Hi Brian

    IS the reactor space capable? If it requires any gravity flows or convection flows then it has serious problems in microgravity.

    Another thing you will need to allow for is the mass of radiators required for heat ejection – which tend to be rather hot for weight-efficiency, thus decreasing the system thermodynamic efficiency. Unless the reactor can run rather hot – say 1900 K with 600 K radiators, though then there are active cooling issues of the core itself that need to be addressed. NERVA, for example, could run really hot (2800 C) because it had a high coolant flow rate and direct ejection of the coolant-propellant.

  4. M simon,

    I have confirmed with the company. The reporter made a mistake. The output is 17-25 MW of electricity. I would guess there would also be more than that amount in additional thermal energy (which with thermoelectronics could also be partially captured.

    the reactor does not need to be buried to contain radiation.

  5. hi M Simon

    My article from last week as you know was about the space systems that would be possible if the Bussard fusion reactor technology is successful. I also had a link to it in this article at the end.

    It is and has been at the end of the article, “If we get fusion power working then we can do even better.”

    I have added discussion of thermoelectronics for conversion of heat to electricity and I discuss a lightweight radiation shield and some simple design steps for radiation protection.

    btw: I have lots of other articles on various space propulsion systems which would each have superior performance to what we currently have available. Mirrored Laser arrays, external pulse propulsion and others. My preference would be that the NASA budget and some of the military budget would go towards several of those approaches and whether funding continues depends upon successfully hitting various milestones.

  6. Excellent post, Brian. All of us look forward to small scale fusion reactors for space travel, but in the meantime we have to do what we can.

    Bussard looks good so far, but it’s a long way from doing what it promises. We can’t live and go to Mars on promises.

  7. Only one small problem for the “nuclear battery”. Its output is 27 MWth.

    How exactly are you going to convert that to electricity? How will you reject the waste heat? How much will your radiator weigh? How much is your shield going to weigh?

    Here is a better bet, that has the potential for direct conversion from charged particles to electricity:

    Bussard Fusion Reactor
    Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion

    It has been funded:

    Bussard Reactor Funded

    The above reactor can burn Deuterium which is very abundant and produces lots of neutrons or it can burn a mixture of Hydrogen and Boron 11 which does not.

    The implication of it is that we will know in 6 to 9 months if the small reactors of that design are feasible.

    If they are we could have fusion plants generating electricity in 10 years or less depending on how much we want to spend to compress the time frame.

    BTW Bussard is not the only thing going on in IEC. There are a few government programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, MIT, the University of Wisconsin and at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana among others.

    The Japanese and Australians also have programs.

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