Nanotechnologists have developed conducting fabrics that can survive a washing machine. Multifunctional applications have been limited by the ability to spin important materials into yarns and make sure they stay there even after washing. They make a yarn peppered with “guest” particles of interest – titanium dioxide to create self-cleaning fabrics and wrap the particles up in a tightly scrolled web to hold them in place.
Multifunctional applications of textiles have been limited by the inability to spin important materials into yarns. Generically applicable methods are demonstrated for producing weavable yarns comprising up to 95 weight percent of otherwise unspinnable particulate or nanofiber powders that remain highly functional. Scrolled 50-nanometer-thick carbon nanotube sheets confine these powders in the galleries of irregular scroll sacks whose observed complex structures are related to twist-dependent extension of Archimedean spirals, Fermat spirals, or spiral pairs into scrolls. The strength and electronic connectivity of a small weight fraction of scrolled carbon nanotube sheet enables yarn weaving, sewing, knotting, braiding, and charge collection. This technology is used to make yarns of superconductors, lithium-ion battery materials, graphene ribbons, catalytic nanofibers for fuel cells, and titanium dioxide for photocatalysis.
They take their nanotube web – which is 1 centimetre wide and just 50 nanometres thick – and place it on a filter paper soaked in a solution of the guest material. Or the solution can be deposited as an aerosol from an electrostatic paint gun.
Once the particle-populated nanoweb is dry, it is clamped at one end while the other is twisted by a spinning magnet, of the type used to stir fluids in the lab (see video above). The result: a yarn that holds onto the guest particles within it and can be woven alongside woollen and cotton threads for clothing manufacture.
The Texan team have now made yarns containing titanium dioxide, various conductors and even “high-temperature” superconductors such as magnesium diboride.
Jobs for yarns
Why a superconducting yarn? Because this is not all about clothes: there could be many engineering applications for smart yarns in superconducting linear motors, batteries, supercapacitors and hydrogen storage systems.
Theoretically the thin conducting skins that could be woven with this material could also have applications in stealth aircraft, as the material would be an ultralight radio-frequency radiation absorber that could foil radar. Baugham wouldn’t comment on whether that is a target application, though he says aerospace firms are interested.
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