Cambridge University researchers managed to create a fiber thread made entirely out of carbon nanotubes. The thread, because of its light weight and high strength, might be ideal for manufacturing body armor, quality sutures, or other devices that might benefit from such a material.
A hydrocarbon feedstock, such as ethanol, is injected into the furnace along with a small amount of iron-based catalyst.
Inside the furnace, this feedstock is broken down into hydrogen and carbon. The carbon is then chemically “re-built” on particles of iron catalyst as long, thin-walled nanotubes.
“It makes particles of carbon that are like smoke. But because the nanotubes are entangled, the smoke we make is elastic,” explains Professor Windle.
To the eye, this “elastic smoke” looks a bit like an ever-expanding dark “sock”.
To begin winding it up, a rod is inserted into the furnace from below to grab one end of the sock and yank it down. This stretches the sock into a filament that can be wound up continuously on a reel.
The researchers are currently seeking funds to investigate whether the method can be upgraded from a laboratory to an industrial process.
Cambridge Enterprise Limited, the commercialisation office of the University of Cambridge, filed an initial patent application in July 2003.
It has now granted a licence to Q-Flo Limited, a university spin-out company, which will exploit the technology.