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Carbon Nanotubes 1 KM Long

Carbon Nanotubes 1 KM Long

New manufacturing process produces yarns and sheets of carbon nanotubes millions of times the size of previous nanotubes.

The thought of being able to use carbon nanotubes in future projects excites most engineers, but the current size at which they can be produced, renders them pretty much useless. That is until now.

Thanks to Nanocomp Technologies of Concord, New Hampshire, researchers and engineers can now utilize ‘yarns’ and ‘sheets’ of the material.

When carbon nanotubes first entered the spotlight back in 1991, the technology world began brainstorming endless ways the material could be used. The structural, thermal, and electrical properties of these cylindrical-shaped carbon molecules meant that, in theory, they could be used for extremely compact and fast digital computers, rugged electronics, and super strong structures such as a space elevator – a 62,000 mile elevator stretching into space.

carbon-nanotubes

However, researchers have found it difficult to mass produce nanotubes long enough to accomplish any break-through technologies.

Now Nanocomp Technologies, based in Concord, New Hampshire, is bringing the future closer by producing yarns and sheets of nanotubes, in bulk.

On an atomic level, carbon nanotubes look like rolled-up tubes of chicken wire. The tubing is made from a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms and measures approx one nanometer (one billionth of a meter) in diameter.

Currently, nanotubes are commonly produced in segments about 10,000 nanometers long, to the eye, this looks like a black powder. At this size, the carbon nanotubes full potential is far from utilized, but Nanocomp says it can now produce 18-square-foot sheets and 1 km long yarns of nanotubing.

Nanocomp is using its nanotubing to make lightweight antennas, cables, and electromagnetic interference shields for the military and aerospace markets. Nanocomp is also working with the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Center to develop better body armor.

How It Works

Nanotubes are made by feeding a gas containing a carbon-based feedstock – the raw material – into a long cylindrical furnace. The gas is swept along the furnace until it meets a heated, porous block that is coated with a catalyst.

how-nanocomp-produce-nanotubes

As it squeezes through the pores, the gas is forced into contact with the catalyst, and carbon nanotubes begin to form. A temperature gradient between the porous block and the open end of the furnace supports the tubes as they grow, absorbing material from the reaction gas.

Eventually the nanotubes leave the cylindrical furnace, looking like a wispy, black mass of tube-shaped cotton candy. A rotating anchor or conveyor belt captures the nanotubes as they emerge, turning them into yarns and sheets.


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3 Comments

  1. The article is slightly misleading. The company states on their research actvities that they have only grown milimeter long carbon nanotubes. They have devised mechanisms to weave these into very long fibers and carpets. Theoretically these new fibers will not have the strength that would be obtained if we were to start with even longer Carbon Nanotubes initially

  2. Carbon nanotubes are one of those material science technologies where you know as an intelligent lay person that its going to be huge when it delivers. Kind of like how television was imagined in the early 1920s or even the horseless carriage of the mid 1850s. In this case, its all about the ‘space elevator’!

    Will the space elevator finally be built? I like the idea not just because it can potentially solve a key link to ‘humans in space'; rather that it implies we can actually find pursuits beyond our pedestrian environments. When going into space will be no more difficult than deep sea diving or parachuting; which is not to impugn those dangers, but to look at humans living beyond the constrains we all experience.

    Besides, think of all the things we could learn to do with this kind of ‘brickwork’. Weaving spacecraft hulls the size of of supertankers and weigh as much as a pallet of newspapers, but tougher than a bank vault! 

  3. Nice, but I’ve never seen the actual properties of their fibres being published or any serious microscopic characterisation as for today they may be just bluffing. They can make lots, sure but what’s their ultimate strength. I’d like to compare them against the ones from Los Alamos’, Ray Baughman’s, Alan Windle’s, or Ya-Li Li’s groups.

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