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Spinning process is key to carbon nanotube fibre breakthrough

11 January 2013

Scientists have created the first pure carbon nanotube fibres that combine many of the best features of highly conductive metal wires, strong carbon fibres and pliable textile thread.

Researchers at Teijin Aramid, based in the Netherlands, and Rice University in the USA have published their research findings on a new generation of super fibres in the journal, Science.

For the first time, it has been possible to spin carbon nanotubes (CNTs) into a 'super fibre' that has very high thermal and electrical conductivity and good textile performance. Carbon nanotubes, the building blocks of the fibre, combine the best properties of thermal and electrical conductivity, strength, modulus of elasticity and flexibility. 

For several years, leading researchers at Rice University, including Nobel prize winner Richard Smalley (Chemistry, 1996), along with researchers at Teijin Aramid, have been working on producing carbon nanotubes and forming them into useful macroscopic objects with extraordinary, new performance properties.

To spin a high-performance carbon nanotube textile thread (fibre), the nanotubes must be perfectly stacked and orientated along the fibre axis. The most efficient method to produce this high performance fibre is to dissolve CNTs in a super acid, followed by wet-spinning. This is a patented process which has been used since the 1970s in spinning Teijin Aramid’s Twaron super fibre.

“Our carbon nanotube fibres combine high thermal and electrical conductivity, like that seen in metals, with the flexibility, robust handling and strength of textile fibres”, explained Marcin Otto, Business Development Manager at Teijin Aramid. “With that novel combination of properties it is possible to use CNT fibres in many applications in the aerospace, automotive, medical and (smart) clothing industries.”

Teijin’s cooperation ad involvement was crucial to the project. Twaron technology enabled improved performance, and an industrially scalable production method. That makes it possible to find applications for CNT fibres in a range of commercial or industrial products. “This research and ongoing tests offer us a glimpse into the potential future possibilities of this new fibre.

For example, we have been very excited by the interest of innovative medical doctors and scientists exploring the possibilities to use CNT fibre in surgical operations and other applications in the medical field”, says Marcin Otto. Teijin Aramid expects to replace the copper in data cables and light power cables used in the aerospace and automotive industries, to make aircraft and high end cars lighter and more robust at the same time.

Other applications could include integrating light weight electronic components, such as antennas, into composites, or replacing cooling systems in electronics where the high thermal conductivity of carbon nanotube fibre can help to dissipate heat.

Teijin Aramid is currently testing samples of CNT fibre on a small scale with the most active prospective customers. Building up a robust supply chain is high on the project team's list of priorities. As well as their carbon fibre, aramid fibre and polyethylene fibre, this new carbon nanotube fibre is expected to allow Teijin to offer customers an even broader portfolio of super fibres.

Teijin Aramid is running this project in collaboration with research groups led by Professor Matteo Pasquali and Professor Jun Kono at Rice University (Houston, USA) and allied research centers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Haifa, Israel) and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (Dayton, USA).


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