A U.S. military-university collaboration has resulted in a new type of heat-resistant, conductive clothing made from carbon nanotubes.
Engineers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) have partnered with the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to create textiles capable of charging minor devices like cell phones.
UC professors Vesselin Shanov and Mark Schulz have been harnessing their expertise in electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering to craft materials that can power electronics.
According to Shanov, the major challenge lies in translating these properties to take advantage of the material’s strength, conductivity and heat resistance.
The university’s Nanoworld Lab is behind the latest development.
One of its researchers, Sathya Narayan Kanakaraj, has co-authored a study examining ways to improve the tensile strength of dry-spun carbon nanotube fiber.
Another UC student, Mark Haase, has spent the past year exploring applications for carbon nanotubes at the Air Force Research Lab of Wright-Patterson.
Through the partnership, UC students have been using the Air Force Lab’s sophisticated equipment, including X-ray computer tomography, to analyze samples.
The team has so far grown nanotubes on quarter-sized silicon wafers under heat in a vacuum chamber through a process called chemical vapor deposition.
One of their experiments involved stretching the little fibrous square over an industrial spool in the lab.
Upon closer examination, it was noticed that this tiny sheet of carbon became a spun thread similar spider’s silk which can be woven into textiles.
“It’s exactly like a textile,” Shanov said. “We can assemble them like a machine thread and use them in applications ranging from sensors to track heavy metals in water or energy storage devices, including super capacitors and batteries.”
For the military, this could mean replacing heavy batteries that charge the growing number of electronics that make up a soldier’s loadout: lights, night-vision and communications gear.
The researchers are nevertheless progressing slowly to ensure that these carbon nanotubes are nontoxic.
“Research has found that in high or acute exposure, carbon nanotubes can cause lung damage similar to asbestos. The last thing we want to do is cure one cancer with these only to find it gives you a different one,” opined Haase.
Image credits and content: Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services/Michael Miller-UC