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New Threadlike Carbon Nanotube Fiber Unveiled 171

Posted by samzenpus
from the threads-that-bind dept.
Zothecula writes "At about 100 times the strength of steel and a sixth the weight, 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."
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New Threadlike Carbon Nanotube Fiber Unveiled

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 14, 2013 @12:45PM (#42582589)

    They'd never allow it.

    • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Monday January 14, 2013 @12:57PM (#42582717)

      The parent is probably referring to this movie [imdb.com].

    • by Coisiche (2000870) on Monday January 14, 2013 @12:59PM (#42582747)

      Presumably AC is referencing the film [wikipedia.org] but the vanity of people is such that if some fibre allowed permanently enduring clothes they would still want new ones; there will always be a desirable new ironic slogan for a t-shirt.

      Now indestructible clothes with a programmable visual component... one would probably do me.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        if some fibre allowed permanently enduring clothes they would still want new ones; there will always be a desirable new ironic slogan for a t-shirt.

        ...except you wouldn't be able to print it on the shirt.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:33PM (#42583167) Journal

        There are probably niche exceptions; but in most of clothing it's been quite some time since disrepair, rather than disuse, has been the driving factor behind consumption.

        Even relatively easy and low-tech techniques like 'patching' and 'darning' and assorted flavors of mending have fallen out of fashion, and those aren't exactly the height of material science...

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Because they are a lot of work compared to getting another shirt for $5-$20. They also look like crap for the most part.

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          Indeed. I remember hearing that the Salvation Army has to discard something like 90% of the clothing donations they receive simply because the supply so outstrips the demand. Hopefully all that cloth gets turned into insulation or cloth paper or something instead of just ending up in a landfill somewhere. What a waste.

          • There are various recycling methods, depending on how well you can separate the goods(If a given synthetic type is isolated well enough, you can melt it back to pellets, some fibers are long enough that you can shred and re-process them into rag, or industrial felt, or similar low quality fiber aggregate stuff. If you can screen enough of the synthetics out, it is probably compostable, and I'm sure that baled fabric is hardly the worst fuel that we've ever burned for energy); but it isn't exactly as clean a

        • by Kjella (173770)

          here are probably niche exceptions; but in most of clothing it's been quite some time since disrepair, rather than disuse, has been the driving factor behind consumption. Even relatively easy and low-tech techniques like 'patching' and 'darning' and assorted flavors of mending have fallen out of fashion

          Well there's two different things here, that you wouldn't mend it if was damaged isn't the same as saying you wouldn't want it to last longer, it's certainly not the same as disuse. Honestly I've had clothes that I've loved and used but when they're so worn out they'd need patching and darning I've just said okay it's time to let go and buy a new one, if they hadn't worn out I'd keep using them. Particularly darning I think has almost fallen out of the language, I practically never have to look up English w

      • the vanity of people is such that if some fibre allowed permanently enduring clothes they would still want new ones

        Vanity? Am I vain because I moved to another city? Or rearranged my furniture? Or painted my house a different color? Sometimes people just want a change.

        • One word: Yes.

          Not that it is a bad thing. Its natural to want change from time to time.
          Just don't kid your self that there are practical reasons to re-paint your house a different colour.

          • I'm suddenly reminded of Mr. Gradgrind speaking to schoolchildren in Dickens' Hard Times. "You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls."
  • Where's the Processlike Carbon Nanotube Fiber?

  • Awesome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Monday January 14, 2013 @12:54PM (#42582693)

    When do we start building the space elevator?

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      TFA says it's as strong as carbon fiber, which suggests that they couldn't translate the strenght of nanotubes into macroscale perfectly. Still, being able to massproduce CNTs is a huge leap forward.

      • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:26PM (#42583089)

        TFA says it's as strong as carbon fiber, which suggests that they couldn't translate the strenght of nanotubes into macroscale perfectly.

        The common claim that CNTs are "100 times the strength of steel" is basically baloney. Sure, they are that strong at the molecular level. But at the molecular level, even iron-iron bonds are far stronger than steel. If we ever figure out how to control the structure of materials so that the strength of individual chemical bonds is preserved in bulk materials, then we would not only have stronger carbon fibers, but we would also have stronger steel.

        • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by crunchygranola (1954152) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:50PM (#42583387)

          ... If we ever figure out how to control the structure of materials so that the strength of individual chemical bonds is preserved in bulk materials, then we would not only have stronger carbon fibers, but we would also have stronger steel.

          It is a special case, but we do have well know examples of how to do this. They are crystals, which are atomically ordered on the macroscale. The manifestation of the strength inherent in the carbon-carbon bond on the macroscale is what bestows upon diamonds their remarkable properties. Single crystal macroscopic parts are manufactured in metallurgy also (turbine blades).

          • ... If we ever figure out how to control the structure of materials so that the strength of individual chemical bonds is preserved in bulk materials, then we would not only have stronger carbon fibers, but we would also have stronger steel.

            It is a special case, but we do have well know examples of how to do this. They are crystals, which are atomically ordered on the macroscale. The manifestation of the strength inherent in the carbon-carbon bond on the macroscale is what bestows upon diamonds their remarkable properties. Single crystal macroscopic parts are manufactured in metallurgy also (turbine blades).

            We also have bulk commercial applications of it - nickel super-alloys are grown into very large single crystals for use in airplane propellers/turbine fans. There are no grain boundaries - it's just one big crystal.

            That said, there's where the people making artificial diamonds are probably really hoping to go: single crystal diamonds grown to custom order shapes.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          The common claim that CNTs are "100 times the strength of steel" is basically baloney.

          Just wait until they perfect copper nanotubes.

        • by Twinbee (767046)
          Is it because of imperfections in the bulk material that make them less strong than what's apparent at the molecular level?
    • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by EdZ (755139) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:23PM (#42583071)

      When do we start building the space elevator?

      When we can consistently produce defect-free carbon nanotubes in much longer lengths than is currently possible. Space elevators require near the upper end of CN theoretical tensile strength.
      Bolos, Skyhooks and Rotovators on the other hand...

    • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:27PM (#42583107)

      Build a lunar one first with off the shelf Kevlar.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_space_elevator#Materials [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vlm (69642) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:52PM (#42583421)

        Whoops I forgot to explain why and only placed an imperial command, not sure how I got +5 unless you guys have ESP. The reason why is:

        Weird design with known material = Success, mostly
        Known design with weird material = Success, mostly
        Weird design with weird material = Epic Fail, mostly

        Figure out whats wrong with the design using "old fashioned" kevlar then once the design is all debugged whip out the magic threads and try a known good design with weird new material.

      • What clothing store are YOU shopping at where they have kevlar on the shelf?
        • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Informative)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday January 14, 2013 @02:14PM (#42583641) Journal

          The classier fibreglass suppliers usually have Kevlar, carbon-fiber, and sometimes aramid(or various mixtures of the above) in woven sheets.

          More expensive than basic fibreglass; but sometimes you just need the extra strength and/or butch aesthetics.

          If your plan involves less boating and more getting shot, ballistic-grade kevlar fabrics are also pretty easily available.

          • Kevlar weave shouldn't be that difficult to source; I have a pair of jeans with large areas of Kevlar cloth reinforcement in them. Bought it at the motorcycle shop. Excellent way to avoid a bumectomy in the event of a get-off.

      • Spectra would be better (check your own link), and it costs about the same. But the bulk cost of the cable is not a significant cost in this project, any more than the fuel cost is in space launches (a fact that often surprises people to learn). Raw material costs will be effectively zero compared to the flight systems that must be built and operated. Use carbon fiber - it is the best material we have that we know how to actually make in quantity (and it is actually not much more expensive than Kevlar or Sp

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Monday January 14, 2013 @12:58PM (#42582735)
    The conductivity issue is impressive, as TFA says that the conductivity is on par with copper and aluminum.

    But if the "stronger than steel" of carbon nanotubes turns into "as strong as cotton thread" of these threads, don't expect these to replace steel cable any time soon.

    Next question: Cost? Can they be made more cheaply than copper or aluminum?
    • Re:How strong? (Score:5, Informative)

      by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:01PM (#42582779)

      Probably not... but copper and aluminium are finite resources. Sooner or later, we'll run out. Carbon, on the other hand, we have no shortage of.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        We already recycle metals, which would be much harder with carbon.

        • by shaitand (626655)

          Carbon is biodegradable and you can grow new Carbon. How do you think we recycle cotton (which is carbon)?

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            You can't grow new carbon; like any other element, it can't be changed without some nuclear fission or fusion process, or radioactive decay. We "recycle" carbon because it's present in the soil and the atmosphere, and living processes (like cotton crops) re-order these hydrocarbons into new forms (leaves, stems, roots, cotton balls, etc.), with the aid of solar energy.

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            While carbon molecules tend to be highly biodegradable, Carbon nanotubes aren't, any more than diamond is, it all comes down to the chemical structure. In fact buckyballs, a spherical carbon molecule very similar to nanotubes, has been shown to be a potent environmental toxin in quantity - it's small enough to be readily absorbed by cells, but it doesn't get broken down and eventually clogs up the "machinery" to the point that the cell dies, at which point it and it's toxic payload get consumed by somethin

            • by fnj (64210)

              There's a fixed amount of carbon in the world - much greater than of any metal, but still fixed.

              Incorrect [mit.edu] as to the amount, actually (see Table 3). Carbon is WAY down the list.

              31.9% of earth's mass is iron
              27.9% oxygen
              16.1% silicon
              15.4% magnesium
              (we're already up to 91.3%)
              (10 others left out; none of them over 2% each)
              0.073% carbon

              There is more titanium and more cobalt than there is carbon!

              • by Immerman (2627577)

                Interesting, though I'd suggest for at least the next extended time period the composition of the mantle and core (the vast majority of the Earth) is largely irrelevant as a resource, it's only the stuff in the crust and atmosphere that is accessible. Still looks like the crust is similar, once you factor for atomic mass
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elemental_abundances.svg [wikipedia.org]

                So I suppose it's really just a matter of carbon being really *accessible*, and recycling carbon is likely to become an issue fairl

          • by Hentes (2461350)

            Carbon is biodegradable

            And metals rust, yet this has nothing to do with recycling. If anything, being vulnerable to corrosion is a disadvantage.

            How do you think we recycle cotton (which is carbon)

            No, it's cellulose.

      • Re:How strong? (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:17PM (#42582983)

        Probably not... but copper and aluminium are finite resources. Sooner or later, we'll run out. Carbon, on the other hand, we have no shortage of.

        Actually, in the Earth's crust, aluminum is more common than carbon by a factor of about 200. Only oxygen and silicon are more common. Source. [wikipedia.org]

        • Re:How strong? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by vlm (69642) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:39PM (#42583249)

          Actually, in the Earth's crust, aluminum is more common than carbon by a factor of about 200. Only oxygen and silicon are more common. Source. [wikipedia.org]

          Talk to a chemEng about the nightmare of aluminium refining. Its not just that the hall process takes a lot of electricity mostly from burning coal, but it only works with alumina. You gotta run raw bauxite thru the Bayer process which is a whole nother PITA to pre-refine it before it hits the electrochemical cells as alumina. Most bauxite comes from Australia and Brazil, and there's only a "couple centuries worth" and then thats it for bauxite, so aside from recycling it'll be back to the old days before the Hall process where Aluminum was basically a precious metal. Aluminum really is a huge unholy pain in the ass to refine into usable metal.

          Its kinda like nitrogen. Plants REALLY need nitrogen. But we all live in a great seemingly infinite pool of nitrogen gas, you say so whats the problem. Yeah but biochemically its a PITA to use N2 straight outta the air, so it (mostly) doesn't happen. Leading to all kinds of chemEng foolishness with ammonia and nitrogen fixing bacteria on legumes etc etc.

          Having some atoms laying around doesn't mean they're convenient to use, or practical to use, or possible to use.

          • Re:How strong? (Score:4, Informative)

            by crunchygranola (1954152) on Monday January 14, 2013 @02:35PM (#42583873)

            You have to take standard resource reserve estimates with a grain of salt. Unless they specifically analyze unconventional resources, and all resources at multiple price points above the present market price, you are getting an extremely conservative lower bound estimate on the real resources.

            It would be remarkable if the third most abundant element in the Earth's crust (8.2%) would be so "limited in distribution". Bauxite is around 40% aluminum, a modest 5-fold enrichment over the crustal average, there are vast quantities of material (e.g. aluminum clays like kaolin) that are nearly as high, and a commercial production process is already being brought to market: http://www.ammg.com.au/download/IndMin%20-%20Meckering%20making%20alumina%20from%20kaolin%20-%20Sept%2012.pdf [ammg.com.au] . In two hundred years exploiting other aluminum resources won't be a problem.

            • by fnj (64210)

              These are not resource reserve estimates. They are estimates of the abundance of various ELEMENTS, a large part of the total for most of them being tied up in various chemical compounds. They are of scientific interest and make no claim to quantify the ease of isolation, extraction and purification.

          • Re:How strong? (Score:4, Informative)

            by slew (2918) on Monday January 14, 2013 @06:22PM (#42586199)

            Talk to a chemEng about the nightmare of aluminium refining.

            The process of making this fiber is to dissolve CNTs in a super-acid and then wet-spinning them into threads. Apparently the key to this process is the same one use to make Twaron [wikipedia.org].

            I'm not sure how this process has been adapted to make CNT fibres, but at least in the case of Twaron and Kevlar, dissolving the polymers in normal acids for powderization is a problem so they use a special patented process to do this which consists of NMP [wikipedia.org] and some other stuff. Then they have to wet-spin it into threads from a solution that's pretty much 100% acid (according to the wikipedia, they dissolve the polymer powder by mixing it with frozen 100% sulfuric acid in powder form and gently heating it).

            On the surface, it sounds to me that this is a similar level of PITA as refining aluminum...

        • by sl3xd (111641)

          There's also more Platinum than Gold in Earth's Crust. Platinum is considerably more valuable than Gold, and more useful as well. One would think that we would be mining/smelting far more Platinum, but no, Gold production is 14x that of Platinum.

          There's a real difference between the abundance of a material in Earth's crust, and the ability to obtain useful quantities of it. Until we develop the technology to "crack" planets and refine the contents wholesale, relative amounts of an element in the crust is me

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            It seems to me that if a civilization develops "planet-cracking" technology, and the ability to go to other planets to use such technology for harvesting materials, that same civilization should have the technical ability to simply synthesize whatever materials they need through nuclear fission/fusion processes. The energy to do this is extremely abundant; all they have to do is collect it from a nearby star (they can probably just harvest the hydrogen and helium from that star too, to use to create the el

          • by tragedy (27079)

            The question is, can we get enough chrome to chrome the moon?

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Is it though? The earth's "crust" is actually a really thick layer, and we haven't even managed to drill through it yet. Here on top of the crust, the concentration of materials is rather different than it is several miles down. The soil that you walk on every day likely has a lot of carbon in it, a lot more than it does aluminum (unless you're walking on the beach, in which case it's mostly silicon you're walking on). Also important to us is what's in the atmosphere; CO2 is a significant portion of the

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      It says its as strong as carbon fiber, which is a high tensile strength material, that can exceed the strength of steel

    • Re:How strong? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheLink (130905) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:06PM (#42582841) Journal

      Another question, what happens if you expose these to a camera flash?
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=camera-flash-prompts-carb [scientificamerican.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kaiser423 (828989)

      The article mentions that it still has incredibly high textile strength, and shows a small fiber holding up a light (not much, but still).

      I think that cost would scale down well since it's very similar to other material handling.

      Right now, a large part of the cost and problems with data cables are the really thin wires -- we'd like them to be thinner, but can't make them any thinner without making the cable too brittle. I purposely buy extra-thick data cables merely to reduce problems in the field due to f

      • by fnj (64210)

        You could as well support that MR-16 light with a pair of fine cotton threads. What you couldn't do is POWER it via the threads, as you can with these new type threads.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:00PM (#42582761)

    The hollow tubes of pure carbon, which are nearly as wide as a strand of DNA, are about 100 times stronger than steel

    Why not use units here? I have no fucking clue how wide a strand of DNA is. And which strength are we talking about? Tensile? Sheer?

    • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:31PM (#42583141) Journal
      A strand of DNA is about 2 nanometers wide... does that help?
    • And which strength are we talking about? Tensile? Sheer?

      The latter, I think. Sheer Fucking Strength!

      Although, come to think of it, it might be shear strength as well.

    • 20 angstroms. But that number means nothing to me or anyone else who doesn't regularly work with things that small. It's good journalism to write things your audience can actually relate to and not throw meaningless numbers at them, at least when it's journalism for a general audience.
      • by shaitand (626655)

        It's better journalism to give both. "The strands are about 2 nanometers wide or about the width of a strand of DNA." Either just means really small to most people but for those who aren't most people you've provided the important piece of information.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:01PM (#42582777)

    The published ultimate tensile strengths of the CNT fibers in this work is well below that of aerospace-grade carbon fiber. They have a big gap to bridge before the CNTs can be of any use for building airplanes, let alone space elevators. Not saying that it can't be accomplished, but that this not yet a major breakthrough.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      The published ultimate tensile strengths of the CNT fibers in this work is well below that of aerospace-grade carbon fiber. They have a big gap to bridge before the CNTs can be of any use for building airplanes, let alone space elevators. Not saying that it can't be accomplished, but that this not yet a major breakthrough.

      I'm more interested in if this is cheap or not in mass quantities and practical to be used for wires..

      • by vlm (69642) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:48PM (#42583359)

        I'm more interested in if this is cheap or not in mass quantities and practical to be used for wires..

        The meth head copper thieves are not going to be happy when this stuff gets deployed.

        • The meth head copper thieves are not going to be happy when this stuff gets deployed.

          Just tell them it's charcoal and watch every barbeque in suburbia get cleaned out.

        • by slew (2918)

          You assume that the price will be lower than copper. Since they are likely to price this as a premium product (lower-weight, more flexible), initially, the price per meter may well be higher than the copper wire it replaces...

    • by fnj (64210)

      If you don't mind, what is the figure in GPa? Because I don't find any article with the specifics which is not behind a fucking paywall.

  • Dammit (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joshua Fan (1733100) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:05PM (#42582825) Homepage
    Now I can't buy any cables till they replace them with this. Damn you, technology.
    • Re:Dammit (Score:5, Funny)

      by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday January 14, 2013 @02:11PM (#42583601)

      Now I can't buy any cables till they replace them with this. Damn you, technology.

      Don't worry, I'm sure Monster will be selling gold-plated versions of these, at a reasonable price, soon.

      • by slew (2918)

        Now I can't buy any cables till they replace them with this. Damn you, technology.

        Don't worry, I'm sure Monster will be selling gold-plated versions of these, at a reasonable price, soon.

        Or perhaps they'll be selling gold cables with CNT fiber wrapped around it (depending on which material is cheaper)...

    • Don’t worry – I am sure Monster Audio cables is working on the problem as we speak.

  • I don't even want to know how much Monster would charge for a cable made with this stuff!

    If you have to ask... you can't afford it.

  • They can do just about everything*!


    * Including leasurely strolling thru the blood / brain barrier, but we don't need no steeking regulations!
  • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Monday January 14, 2013 @02:30PM (#42583819)
    Are these going to be called CNT Hairs?

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