Carbon-Nanotube Reinforced Composites

09 May 2002

The Missile Defense Agency has notified Composites-Consulting that it will receive Phase I Small Business Innovation Research funding.

This project seeks to demonstrate feasibility of achieving revolutionary composite material mechanical properties by a new method of reinforcing thermoplastic polymer with Singe-Wall Carbon (SWC) Nanotubes. Incredible strength up to ~180 Gpa (26 Msi) and modulus on the order of 1.0 – 1.5 TPa (145 – 217 Msi) have been attributed to SWC Nanotubes. All attempts to translate these properties into a composite material have failed. Causes of failure have included rapid on-set of matrix thickening, entanglement and kinking of the Nanotubes, and roping or clumping together caused by extremely high van der Waals forces at the ends of the Nanotubes. The project seeks to overcome these limitations by employing a new proprietary method of combining SWC Nanotubes with a thermoplastic polymer. This new method is anticipated to enable higher loading of Nanotubes into a thermoplastic. Much more importantly, it is anticipated to correct problems that have prevented translation of SWC Nanotube properties into desired composite material mechanical performance. Expected result is a new class of composite material having revolutionary strength- and stiffness-to-weight compared with existing materials.

Any structure destined to leave the ground is a potential candidate for applying a high temperature thermoplastic reinforced with Single-Wall Carbon Nanotubes. Dramatically improved strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight material properties will enable structural designs exhibiting much lower structural weight. Much lower structural weight will enable significantly greater performance and payload delivery. While the cost of SWC Nanotubes remains high, initial applications should be expected for satellites, boosters, and single-stage-to-orbit vehicles. Industry efforts appear poised to achieve a production breakthrough that will significantly reduce their price. As production prices of the material decrease, subsequent applications should be expected for military aircraft. Applications eventually should be expected for commercial aircraft after sufficient volume-enabled price reductions are realized.

Additionally, Composites-Consulting has been retained by a group of investors to assist in developing products at the lowest end of the cost and performance spectrum. This work will involve using natural fibers to develop some of the lowest cost materials, aimed at some of the highest production-volume products yet encountered in the field of composites. Work on programs is just beginning.

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