New Hampshire Startup Makes World’s Largest Sheets of Carbon Nanotubes

2/22/08

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they don’t conduct electricity. Adding conductive cables made of his nanotubes to the bodies of airplanes would channel the energy from lightning strikes around sensitive electronic equipment without adding much weight. And running electricity through them on the ground could heat them up and de-ice the aircraft.

It’s the light weight of carbon nanotube wires—only about 20 percent of the weight of the same volume of copper wire—that could make them especially attractive for the aerospace industry. “1850s copper wire is still the conductor of all our satellites, all our aircraft,” Antoinette says. If using nanotubes could cut the weight of two tons of copper wire in a 747 in half, he says, “you’re talking literally millions of dollars of savings in fuel costs” over the life of an airplane.

Nanocomp has already been qualified as a vendor by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The company is shipping evaluation quantities of its material to them and others for testing in various uses. Once Nanocomp gets to 100-square-foot sheets, the company will decide whether it wants to continue to scale up the size or to build more machines to ramp up production. Antoinette expects to have a pilot plant running by 2010, with full-scale production by 2012.

The production process was developed by David Lashmore, a co-founder of Nanocomp and now chief technology officer. The other co-founder was Robert Dean, a former engineering professor at Dartmouth who started Synergy Innovations, a high-tech incubator in Lebanon, NH, where Lashmore was working when he and Antoinette met. They incorporated the company in June of 2004, initially funding it with their own money and a grant from the Office of Naval Research. The U.S. Army gave them a $2.5 million contract to develop carbon nanotubes as a material to strengthen body armor, and they’ve also received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Air Force. CEI Community Ventures of Portland, ME, provided a $1.5 million Series A financing round, and Antoinette is currently trying to raise $6 million in a Series B round.

The company has filed for 16 patents, with maybe a half dozen more in the works. Just to be sure they have the freedom to use it without fear of infringement, Antoinette says, the company signed a non-exclusive license with IBM for Big Blue’s process for making single-walled carbon nanotubes.

Antoinette admits to having drunk his own Kool-Aid on the prospects for his company, but insists that outside people seem sold on it too. “We’re excited because Fortune 100 companies are telling us we’re the most advanced thing they’ve seen,” he says.

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  • robert carrier

    You say that you are producing these “sheets” now at one per day what grade . are these SWCNT compared to what is being done and produced now in SWCNT and are they availble to industry.

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  • David

    So, it’s just barely as strong as Aluminum? Excuse me while I yawn.

  • Mark

    David:
    Yeah, but although they say the two sheets are the same strength the CNT sheet might be much lighter. Plus the idea is that the same technique will be applied to longer and longer CNTs resulting in much stronger sheets. Of course the big deal would be a MxN meter sheet where all the NTs are N meters long in one dimension and M in the other (ie the tubes span the sheet end to end with no breaks). What would really be cool would be tubes that intersect at fullerenes so that the two dimensions are bonded.
    Mark

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  • san

    Unwrap a nanotube, and you have a sheet of graphene. If you could create a sandwich composite of graphene layers, of MxN sq.meters in area, then it would likely have more strength than nanotube mats, since all the bonds would be in the same plane. Graphene is more of a wonder material than nanotubes are, and would give higher-strength sheets.

  • Peter

    I strongly suspect that the tensile strength quoted is actually a typo by the reporter. Either that or he got his facts seriously wrong. It is unfathomable to me how a sheet of carbon nanotubes would be LESS strong than an equivalent sheet of aluminum. And any company that created such a wimpy sheet of nanotubes sure wouldn’t be boasting about it.

  • guan

    I guess understanding the chemistry is important because there seems to be some confustion.

    the strength of these sheets comes entirely from weak van der waals and pi stacking forces. not covalent bonds. lots of covalent bonds (to other tubes) in a nanotube backbone completely destroy regularity and essentially change the properties so that you no longer have nanotubes.

    That is why the article said that the trick was growing the tubes long. if you have long tubes that overlap, held together with weak forces, the overlapping tubes will maintain a net end to end force holding the sheet together.

    if you add JUST the right amount of covalent bonds (like 4 bonds per tube) you will have the strongest lightest material ever made, Guaranteed.

    the difficulty lies in controlling the extent of reaction.

    I want to know if this company has developed a way to control stereoregularity.

    remember kids, a sheet of paper can be rolled up in a few different ways. remember kids, graphene looks different along 2 different axes in a plane. you can roll nanotubes up from the “corner” or from one side or the other. depending on how you roll it up you get different properties.

    if these guys have developed a way to make bulk nanotubes, with control of wall (single wall vs multiwall as multi wall are useless more of a structural material and single wall an electronic material), and stereoregulartiy, they will be the richest bastards ever…

    this is the same breakthrough that was made when people figured out you didnt need a mass spec to make fullerenes. in other words the price went from 1000 dollars per gram to 100 dollars per gram. researchers will be thrilled.

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  • http://www.mast-victims.org Henrik Eiriksson

    Quote:
    “Antoinette says the sheets would be particularly good for shielding electronic components from electromagnetic interference”

    Well, how about shielding humans from electromagnetic interference aswell? It’s a real problem and carbon-based EMF shielding is a real solution, like this: http://www.yshield.com
    I’m looking forward to this nanotech to become affordable to others than Boeing and Nasa.

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  • Paul

    Too bad, carbon nanotubes are toxic, take very good care while handling them.

    You have been warned!

    • dart

      Carbon Nanotubes are not toxic, the Problem is merely that early Generation tubes are so small that they can destroy your lungs, just like carbon dust in old coal-mines. Modern ones which are actually produced industrially und used are considerally longer

  • http://www.bostonrack.com Material Handling Equipment

    To recall, Carbon nanotubes are allotropes of carbon with a nanostructure that can have a length-to-diameter ratio greater than 1,000,000.
    Its better enough that the composition must be discuss clearly to know the possibilities of this technology. We must know the pros and cons of this.
    I guess understanding between chemistry and physics are very important in this aspect.

  • Stuart Halliday

    How can they be used as a substitute for copper wiring?

    Copper has a very low resistance per metre.

    Carbon isn’t anywhere near as low so you’ll need more power to send the signal through a length of carbon fibre.

    So an aircrafts power supply would need to be substantially bigger and heavier to compensate.

    • dart

      Carbon itself, yes, has higher resistance, but carbon nanotubes have been theoretical proven to have a 10 times lower electrical resistivity and a 1200 higher cnductiong capacity. Individual CNT haven been proven to achieve those values.

  • Fred Stone

    What is the stock symbol for Nanocomp?

  • http://67.101.40.35 Peter Marks

    Will someone please send me an email with the stock symbol for Nanocomp Technologies. This is a stock to buy for the long term.

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