FRIDAY, 26 OCTOBER 2007Developed at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, the new fibres are already of similar strength to current materials such as Kevlar. Professor Alan Windle commented to the BBC: "We've seen bits that are much better than Kevlar in all respects."
Carbon nanotubes are formed by rolling up a sheet of carbon one atom thick. Scientists have been interested in their properties, particularly their strength, for some time, but producing them and spinning them into fibres is not easy.
The new process uses a hydrocarbon, such as ethanol, along with an iron-based catalyst. The hydrocarbon is broken down in a furnace, and the carbon atoms coalesce onto the catalyst to build nanotubes, which can simply be wound out of the furnace onto a reel. The process combines many thousands of nanotubes into a single fibre, which previously had to be done after the nanotubes had been made.
The simpler technique will vastly reduce the cost of making carbon fibres, potentially making them viable for use in things like bulletproof vests and jet engines.
A licence to exploit the technology has been granted to Q-Flo, a University spin-off.
Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy
Written by Thomas Kluyver