AUSTRALIA: Polymer nanofibres find strength in carbon

Researchers at Australia's Deakin University have found a way to strengthen plastic nanofibres, using carbon nanotubes to make them up to 400% stronger than before and possibly leading to new commercial applications.

Already used in technology for optoelectronics, filter systems and as catalysts, these special reinforced polymer nanofibres may now be strong enough for new technological uses in medicine, the environment, energy and security, claimed lead researcher Minoo Naebe.

She made the discovery while working on her PhD, using the carbon nanotubes to support microscopic plastic fibres, which are thinner than a hair.

"Polymer nanofibres are created through a process called electrospinning, which uses an electrical charge to draw very fine fibres from a liquid, in this case polymer solution," Naebe explained. "The idea was that if the polymer could form a shell, or crystallise, around the carbon nanotube, it would strengthen the nanofibre."

Carbon nanotubes are one of the strongest materials ever discovered, and could help polymer nanofibres change our lives, Naebe said.

"I think polymer nanofibre technology, like the internet, will revolutionise the way we live. It has the potential to improve technologies in medicine, energy, security, the environment and more. Tiny, powerful batteries; clothing that protects against chemical and biological hazards; filters to purify air; tissue scaffold implants to help repair injuries - all of these are potential nanofibre applications," she added.

Naebe and her fellow researchers have also found that simple post-manufacture treatments such as soaking the carbon polymer nanofibres in alcohol can add even more strength to the nanofibres.