Colossal carbon nanotubes could replace cotton fibers for high-tech clothing

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Chicago (IL) – Anyone who has played a first person shooter is familiar with sci-fi suits that provide a gamer’s character super-human abilities in one way or another. At least as far as light body armor is concerned, such suits could become reality soon as scientists have developed a new carbon nanotube-based material that is much stronger than traditional cotton fibers.

According to a paper published in Physical Review Letters, a new material called porous colossal carbon tubes (CCTs) shows all the characteristics that could make it suitable for clothing and a possible replacement of cotton. Compared to traditional carbon nanotubes (CNTs), these colossal carbon tubes have a much bigger size, with a diameter of between 40 and 100 μm and a length in the range of centimeters. The walls of the colossal tubes are composed of macroscopic rectangular columnar pores and exhibit an ultra low density comparable to that of carbon nanofoams.

The scientists said that the created CCTs have a unique architecture with rectangular macropores across the tube walls and layered crystal structures in the solid walls. The structure provides several interesting characteristics, such as ultralight weight, extremely high strength, excellent ductility, and high conductivity.

The researchers claim that the material has “excellent” electrical features, but the mechanics make these colossal carbon tubes especially interesting. The researchers claim that material is 15 times stronger than the strongest carbon fiber currently known (T1000). The material also revealed 30 times the tenacity of Kevlar and 224 times of individual cotton fibers.

Under stress, the material can deform and can deal with a 3% strain before fracture occurs.        

The scientists believe that the similarity to cotton fibers in terms of size are close enough to use conventional textile technologies to create CCT fabrics that are much stronger than any current fabrics. Body armors and
lightweight, high strength composite structures come to mind. The scientists also envision in-situ self-healing composite structures, medical devices to deliver/release multiple drugs simultaneously, and micro-electromechanical systems as possible application areas for their material.

No actual products based on CCTs have been announced.