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Spinning a good yarn with carbon nanotubes

There is a crafty vibe in the air of materials science. Earlier this week we brought news that researchers investigating how graphene forms discovered a patchwork-like structure in the carbon monolayers.

There is a crafty vibe in the air of materials science. Earlier this week we brought news that researchers investigating how graphene forms discovered a patchwork-like structure in the carbon monolayers. Now, another group of scientists have announced that they have spun carbon nanotubes into yarns that can be knitted, sewn or woven.

According to PhysicsWorld the electrically conducting yarns have been spun from a blend of nanotubes, powders and other nanofibres. The yarns "could find applications in energy storage and harvesting, structural composites, photocatalysis and intelligent textiles", the publication reports.

There have been various attempts to create fibres from carbon nanotubes, but they have not been hugely successful because of difficulties in getting carbon to bind with the enigmatic powders. So a group of researchers in the US tried a new approach using webs of carbon nanotubes instead.

Ray Baughman and colleagues at the Nanotech Institute at University of Texas in Dallas borrowed from traditional drawing and spinning techniques to create their machine washable (really) nanotube blend. Broadly, they spray the chosen powder onto a sheet of carbon nanotubes and then twist and spin the resulting stack into a biscrolled yarn.

From PhysicsWorld: "The technique is in fact adapted from traditional textile-spinning methods that have been around for millennia and involves drawing 10 nm diameter multiwalled carbon nanotubes from a "forest" of similar length tubes deposited on a substrate while applying a twist at the same time."

The team has woven yarns from magnesium and boron powders, has reduced graphene oxide nanoribbons to graphene nanoribbon yarn and used LiFePO4 as the guest powder to make electrodes for a lithium ion battery.

The research is published in the journal Science.

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