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Threadlike carbon nanotube fiber combines strength, flexibility and conductivity

By

January 13, 2013

Two strands of the new CNT fiber support and supply current to an LED bulb

Two strands of the new CNT fiber support and supply current to an LED bulb

Image Gallery (7 images)

At about 100 times the strength of steel at one sixth the weight and with impressive electrical conductive properties, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have promised much since their discovery in 1991. The problem has been translating their impressive nanoscale properties into real-world applications on the macro scale. Researchers have now unveiled a new CNT fiber that conducts heat and electricity like a metal wire, is very strong like carbon fiber, and is flexible like a textile thread.

Building on ten years of research, the team, consisting of scientists from Rice University, Dutch firm Teijin Aramid, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, relied on a “wet-spinning” chemical process using chlorosulfonic acid to dissolve clumps of raw nanotubes in a liquid before they were squirted through tiny holes to form long strands. These strands, with trillions and trillions of tightly packed carbon nanotubes all aligned in the same direction, were then spun into a macroscopic thread the researchers say boasts the highest conductivity ever reported for a macroscopic CNT fiber.

“We finally have a nanotube fiber with properties that don’t exist in any other material,” said lead researcher Matteo Pasquali, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry at Rice. “It looks like black cotton thread but behaves like both metal wires and strong carbon fibers.”

A spool with around 50 m (164 ft) of the new threadlike carbon nanotube fiber

“The new CNT fibers have a thermal conductivity approaching that of the best graphite fibers but with 10 times greater electrical conductivity,” adds study co-author Marcin Otto, business development manager at Teijin Aramid. “Graphite fibers are also brittle, while the new CNT fibers are as flexible and tough as a textile thread. We expect this combination of properties will lead to new products with unique capabilities for the aerospace, automotive, medical and smart-clothing markets.”

Pasquali says the specific electrical conductivity of the fibers is on a par with copper, gold and aluminum wires, but is much stronger, which gives them advantages over metal wires for data and low-power applications.

“Metal wires will break in rollers and other production machinery if they are too thin,” Pasquali 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.”

To demonstrate the fibers’ impressive properties, the researchers have used it to suspend an LED light bulb while also supplying it with power. This can be seen, along with a description of the fiber's production, in the video below.

The researchers detail an industrially scalable process for making the threadlike CNT fibers in their paper published in Science.

Source: Rice University

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
9 Comments

Yes please.

Tony Smale
13th January, 2013 @ 09:23 pm PST

This could lead to the construction of engines and generators smaller and lighter. A real revolution, almost similar to the invention of the transistor.

Do you not agree?

ULYSSES F NUNES
14th January, 2013 @ 08:20 am PST

imagine building a "golden gate bridge" using cables made of this fiber and using them to collect lightning energy at the same time.

imagine the sci-fi stories of cables going from earth to orbit to support space stations and their elevators while supplying electrical power at the same time.

imagine electric cables that don't break when a tree falls across them.

further imagine electric cables that metal recycling thieves don't want because there is no copper in them.

imagine being able to produce materials made of cnf with a 3d printer.

imagine trans-oceanic communication cables that don't break.

imagine a space ship using the photo-pressure of sun rays to drive it with sails and lines made from cnf cables.

imagine manufacturing all the items that can now be made with fabric and kevlar using cnf.

if i am right; carbon is one of the most abundant elements and silicon another. imagine combining the most abundant elements into building materials. the need for lumber reduced, the need for cement reduced, the need for steel reduced, the amount of energy needed to make things???

notarichman
14th January, 2013 @ 09:35 am PST

This is cool to see.

Hate to even think that that spool costs. Hopefully the manufacture techniques will improve enough in the next 5 years or so to bring the price WAY down and availability WAY up.

Dave Andrews
14th January, 2013 @ 02:05 pm PST

Think about how you connect this material to the rest of the circuit for electrical conductivity. I could use this stuff at work today if I knew how (cost is another matter, so far, since we don't know) Pie in the sky until you can do that.

Another issue is environmental health. The Gov does not even have regulations on nano fibers, but they are about the size of asbestos fibers.

MarcUp
14th January, 2013 @ 06:13 pm PST

Cant imagine this ever being cheaper than Copper.

Its hard to tell from the 'Video' if the spinning process mentioned for the other product will be somehow available to the public because it is carbon nano fiber and because carbon is so abundant that we will just have so much of it. $150 per liter of the Acid from a commercial supplier. The acid dissolves carbon nano-tubes so should in theory be somewhat recoverable or reusable on an industrial scale. Thinner wires, reduced cost of insulation. Lighter electronic components. Just how good is the Data transportation on this material?

Spriscilla the Queen of the Ocean
14th January, 2013 @ 09:53 pm PST

can this fiber be used in place of copper winding in a alternator or generator?

Dave Hargraves
15th January, 2013 @ 10:59 am PST

Correction of Post

This could lead to the construction of electric motors and generators smaller and lighter. A real revolution, almost similar to the invention of the transistor.

Do you not agree?

ULYSSES F NUNES

ULYSSES F NUNES
17th January, 2013 @ 10:22 am PST

NH-based Nanocomp Technologies (www.nanocomptech.com) has shipped more than 1.5M meters of conductive all CNT yarns. The Company has produced fully functioning, space qualified data cables using its core CNT conductors and its CNT tapes (as EMI shielding).

Michael Gurau
23rd July, 2013 @ 11:26 am PDT
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