“Superfiber” created in nanospinning process

Teijin and Rice University researchers report that they have spun carbon nanotubes into a "super fiber" that has very high thermal and electrical conductivity and could be integrated into composite parts and structures.

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Researchers at Teijin Aramid (Arnhem, The Netherlands) and Rice University (Houston, Texas, USA) on Jan. 11 announced the publication of their research findings on a new generation of super fibers in the leading scientific journal, Science.

For the first time in history, say the researchers, it has been possible to spin carbon nanotubes (CNTs) into a super fiber that has very high thermal and electrical conductivity and good textile performance. Carbon nanotubes, the building blocks of the fiber, which is as thin as a strand of DNA, combine the best properties of thermal and electrical conductivity, strength, modulus and flexibility.

For several years, researchers at Rice University, including Nobel prize winner Richard Smalley (Chemistry, 1996), along with researchers at Teijin Aramid, have been working on producing CNTs and forming them into useful macroscopic objects with extraordinary, new performance properties. To spin a high-performance carbon nanotube textile thread (fiber), the nanotubes must be perfectly stacked and orientated along the fiber axis. The most efficient method to produce this high-performance fiber is to dissolve CNTs in a super acid, followed by wet-spinning. This is a patented process that has been used since the 1970s in spinning Teijin Aramid’s Twaron super fiber.

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

Teijin says Twaron technology enabled improved performance, and an industrially scalable production method. That makes it possible to find applications for CNT fibers 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 fiber. For example, we have been very excited by the interest of innovative medical doctors and scientists exploring the possibilities to use CNT fiber in surgical operations and other applications in the medical field,” says 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 fiber can help to dissipate heat. Teijin Aramid is currently trialing samples of CNT fiber 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. 

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

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