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Science Hardware

Large Sheets of Carbon Nanotubes Produced 155

StCredZero brings news that scientists have developed sheets of nanotubes that measure up to three feet by six feet, and they promise "slabs 100 square feet in area as soon as this summer." The developers see uses for the sheets in electromagnetic shields and airplane construction, and according to the Next Big Future blog, the sheets could also impact the development of solar sails. "The sheets, which the company can produce on its single machine at a rate of one per day, are composed of a series of nanotubes each about a millimeter long, overlapping each other randomly to form a thin mat. The tensile strength of the mat ranges from 200 to 500 megapascals--a measure of how tough it is to break. A sheet of aluminum of equivalent thickness, for comparison, has a strength of 500 megapascals. If Nanocomp takes further steps to align the nanotubes, the strength jumps to 1,200 megapascals."
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Large Sheets of Carbon Nanotubes Produced

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  • by Prysorra ( 1040518 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:09PM (#22616020)
    Rudimentary quantum computing can be done with the ballistic nature of how electrons flow through a sheet of graphene, or in this case, a carbon nanotube. Expect to see computing related articles.

    If you don't understand what it mean to say that electrons move in a "ballistic" manner through these nanotubes, imagine that cool trick your math teach showed you in high school with marbles and pegs making a bell curve. Now imagine being able to change the outcome by removing a lot of peg, and then making your computer understand the results.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:14PM (#22616052) Homepage Journal
    If this stuff is as strong as aluminum, why aren't we using it to actually build things like cars and buildings?

    Has anyone leaked the details of how their process works beyond the little 'teaser' in the article? Could it be scaled down to personal size? Im thinking it would be great to add their process to a home 3D printer.
    • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:33PM (#22616142) Homepage Journal
      If this stuff is as strong as aluminum, why aren't we using it to actually build things like cars and buildings?

      Because they are just learning how to create and manipulate such materials? Your question is like a bronze age smith who knows that small bits of iron can be found and worked saying "How come we haven't replaced bronze with this stuff yet?" It's an engineering challenge is all. As production techniques improve it will be easier and cheaper to make.

      Also, note that it's just the tensile strength that is comparable to aluminum. They said nothing about it's shear strength or rigidity.
      • Exactly. They can produce 1, 3 foot by 6 foot sheets per day. Granted they could create more machines, and have more companies producing it, but at current rates, it would take far too long to produce anywhere near the necessary amount to be able to use this in commercial applications.
      • or it's fatigue characteristics.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Azarael ( 896715 )
      The property mentioned in the article is only covers one property of the material. Different types of Carbon Fiber are already being used for sports car bodies, bicycles and countless other things. In the case of bicycles, yes carbon fiber allows you to create a light frame, but from what I understand, aluminum frames are still stiffer, more shock absorbent, more durable and most importantly, more cost effective. Until carbon materials can match aluminum in these properties, and in cost effectiveness, alumi
      • by kuhneng ( 241514 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:20PM (#22616418) Homepage
        For bikes, aluminum frames are certainly stiffer, but they're substantially less shock absorbing.

        One of the reasons carbon fiber is used is the ability to choose different properties on different axes. Many cyclists want a frame that absorbs road vibration (longitudinally flexible) while being as stiff as possible laterally to transmit pedaling force efficiently and maneuver aggressively.
        • Depends on the aluminum frame: did you ever ride an old Vitus 979 or Alan? Not stiff.
          Stiffness is dependent on the modulus of elasticity and the cube of the tube diameter (basically.) Gary Klein figured out that large, thin-wall aluminum would allow you to build a frame that retained the stiffness of steel while lowering the weight, by vastly increasing the diameter of the tube. Since aluminum has a similar *specific* modulus of elasticity of steel (the modulus divided by the density) but has a lower den
    • Which raises the interesting question of how flammable this stuff is (or maybe it's inflammmable).
    • It doesn't matter what we do with it...

      As long as we make a lot of it, and use it to sequester atmospheric carbon (from CO2 and CH4, natch, yielding 2 H2O).

  • by longacre ( 1090157 ) * on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:20PM (#22616080) Homepage
    Conceivably now a big truck AND the Internet could be fabricated out of a series of tubes [youtube.com]!
  • Do we really want an airplane that will explode if some coherent light hits it?
  • Availibility (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UDGags ( 756537 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:33PM (#22616138)
    (First off I work in this area) I know one we have tried purchasing these sheets in the past a couple time and have not been able to. They might be able to make them but the availability is still very low for any research or products.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:34PM (#22616148)
    to replace my tinfoil hat...
  • MacBook (Score:3, Funny)

    by ack_call ( 870944 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:52PM (#22616264)
    I want my next MacBook to be made out of this stuff.
  • I'm much more excited about the possibilities for hydrogen storage rather than new construction material.

    Poke around a bit and see what I mean. [google.com]

    • hydrogen wont do consumers much good unless someone finds a way to extract it economically enough and in mass quantities to replace gasoline (for automobiles)...
    • So, we have to have a way to produce h2 economically, which is normally just stripping it from natural gas and then releasing CO2. Assuming that we can find a cheap way to split water (which we do not have yet), then you have the issue of conversion. Assume a ICE for this. Basically, you have the same damnable low efficency of a gas or diesel ICE. Of course, we can do Fuel cells, but they are expensive and require constant maintenence. All in all, by the time that these systems come about, The world will be
  • mass (Score:2, Interesting)

    A sheet of aluminum of equivalent thickness, for comparison, has a strength of 500 megapascals.
    Thickness, yes, but what about mass?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      density of carbon nanotubes: 2.6 grams/cm^3 density of aluminum: ~2.7 grams/cm^3 mass=density*volume and assuming the shapes are the same and thickness is the same, so is the volume and in this case nanotubes are slightly less dense than aluminum therfore less mass, and therefore lighter.
      • hmm, if I compare how carbon fibre (with considerable lower mass needed for similar strength) has remained a premium product whereas in the same time aluminium has become more of a commodity in e.g. the automotive field, I wonder if this small difference in density will be worth the effort. Maybe when it will become possible to create complete parts made out of correctly aligned tubes in one go it will see an application. Or in special situations, how good can it resist sheering/grinding? Still, you need a
  • From TFA:

    A computer controlling about 30 different parameters in the process--including temperature, temperature gradient, gas flow rates, and the chemistry of the mix--allows the builders to control the properties of the tubes.

    A genetic algorithm [wikipedia.org] is a great way to optimize a set of parameters. If they can find a way to test parameter sets quickly this would be a great opportunity to use a GA to find the best parameters, especially given that there's so many of them.

    • by brusk ( 135896 )
      It would be IF they could accurately predict the outcome of a given formulation. But that assumption may not hold if our knowledge of these materials' properties is insufficient.
  • They beat us to physics, but if we can finish the space elevator we still have a chance! :p
  • If they make the tubes longer, the tensile strength could go WAY up from there...
  • by imbaczek ( 690596 ) <imbaczek@nosPAm.poczta.fm> on Sunday March 02, 2008 @03:21PM (#22616760) Journal

    Determining the toxicity of carbon nanotubes has been one of the most pressing questions in Nanotechnology. Results from various scientific tests on cells have so far proven confusing, with some results indicating it to be highly toxic and others showing no signs of toxicity. This is primarily because of difficulties arising in spotting the nanotubes entering the cells from other carbon-based cell structures such as membranes. A recent research led by Alexandra Porter from the University of Cambridge shows once they are inside the cell, they accumulate in the cytoplasm and cause cell death.
    Carbon nanosmoke. Don't breathe this!

    (source: wikipedia [wikipedia.org].)
    • It depends a lot on the properties of the material. For example, while aluminum sheets are made of microscopic crystals, there is little danger of breathing significant amounts of aluminum unless you spend a lot of work processing it into a fine powder first. These sheets may be the same way. Who knows? We don't.
      • >>
        For example, while aluminum sheets are made of microscopic crystals, there is little danger of breathing significant amounts of aluminum unless you spend a lot of work processing it into a fine powder first.

        Step one: reduce the aluminium sheets until they fit in a BlendTec blender.
        Step two: turn blender on.
        Step three: dump out on table, being careful to avoid aluminium nanosmoke.
        Step four: play annoying end of video sound.
  • by nguy ( 1207026 ) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @03:57PM (#22616988)
    So this is 1-2GPa tensile strength. We need about 60-100GPa tensile strength for a space elevator.
    • it's a start (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spineboy ( 22918 )
      and it's within 2 orders of magnitude to get there. Not too bad. Shouldn't be too hard to engineer, or tweak it to get there.
    • Space elevators are still out until a cable made out of a continuous single fiber of nanotubes can be fabricated, then woven into a braid capable of withstanding the extreme environment of near-space and space itself. We're not talking a regular 5-strand weave here folks, this new weave will need to be able to resolve any problems by itself. If that cable fails, we're talking 200+ miles of weighty fiber and payload coming down onto the ground at terminal velocity. Even with the light weight to length ratio,
  • I strongly suspect that the tensile strength quoted is actually a typo by the reporter. Either that or he got his facts seriously wrong. It is unfathomable to me how a sheet of carbon nanotubes would be LESS strong than an equivalent sheet of aluminum. And any company that created such a wimpy sheet of nanotubes sure wouldn't be boasting about it.
    • They're not boasting about how strong it is, they are boasting about creating a sheet large enough to be practical of a very promising material. The first cars were slower than horses, people boasted about them anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aug24 ( 38229 )
      I am not a Material Scientist (but IAAPhysicist so here's my guess).

      The nanotubes are short and straight. Tensile failures will be 'between nanotubes' not 'of nanotubes'.

      As the tubes get longer and better aligned, you'll be absolutely right. (You may be absolutely right already of course...)


  • > If Nanocomp takes further steps to align the nanotubes, the strength jumps to 1,200 megapascals."
    anyone who knows how much we need for our space elevator???
  • ...is very important because it paves the way to make highly-advanced products that use carbon nanotubes.

    The best example of this are supercapacitor batteries that use carbon nanotubes to dramatically increase the storage capacity of the battery itself. That could make it possible for real plug-in hybrid vehicles with extremely long range or even the possibility by 2020 of a fully-electric vehicle that could seat 4-5 passenger comfortably yet have a range of around 400 km with charging times essentially the
    • "[..] charging times essentially the same as the time needed to fill a 16-20 gallon fuel tank on a medium-sized family car"

      I am not an electrical expert at all.. but wouldn't such charging times require huge amounts of current to go through the charging wire?

      A supercapacitor is very nice.. but I would tend to say that having a large 'tank' and being able to fill it quickly are two different things.

      Anyone who can expand a bit on this?

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford