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New lightweight material outperforms Kevlar for armour


Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison have developed a new type of ultra-light material described as a "nanofiber mat". The material consists of carbon nanotubes that enable it to outperform Kevlar fabric and steel plates as a means of protective armour - at a much lighter weight and across a wide temperature range - making it suitable for extreme environments.

Techwatch - image showing conceptual image of Carbon nanotubes - tiny cylinders of carbon spanning the width of a single atom

Carbon nanotubes are tiny cylinders of carbon spanning the width of a single atom. These nanotubes are a well-known next-generation material that shows promise in a range of applications, including transistor research, bomb detection devices and treating vision loss.

To create their new material, the research team had to find the ‘right chemistry’ to mix multi-walled carbon nanotubes with Kevlar nanofibers to produce a nanofiber mat. The lead researcher described how “the nano-fibrous materials are very attractive for protective applications because nanoscale fibers have outstanding strength, toughness, and stiffness compared to macroscale fibers." Furthermore, he said, “carbon nanotube mats have shown the best energy absorption so far, and we wanted to see if we could further improve their performance.”  Supposedly, the mats are superior at dissipating energy from the impact of tiny projectiles moving faster than the speed of sound, making them particularly suitable for spacecraft shielding from high-speed micro-debris.

Estimated time to maturity: 2 to 5 years