Recent Advances in Structural Carbon Nanotube Composites

E.J. Siochi
NASA Langley Research Center,
United States

Keywords: structural carbon nanotubes, aerospace lightweight structures


Part of the interest in CNTs was driven by CNT tensile mechanical properties at the nanoscale that suggest their potential to outperform state-of-the-art (SOA) lightweight structural aerospace materials. Early work on the development of CNT nanocomposites involved the dispersion of CNT powder into polymer matrices. Although low levels of CNT doping resulted in meaningful increases in electrical conductivity to enable applications such as electrostatic charge dissipation, the highest concentrations of CNTs in these lightly doped nanocomposites did not yield mechanical properties that could compete with SOA carbon fiber composites. The maximum concentration of CNTs in lightly doped nanocomposites was limited to about 5% due to increases in viscosity that prevent the fabrication of good quality nanocomposites. At the lower concentrations, properties of the resulting nanocomposites were analogous to those of composites made with very short, chopped carbon fibers. About ten years ago, CNTs became available in continuous fiber form, allowing the investigation of processing methods to incorporate much higher CNT content into composites. Recent developments in CNT composite fabrication have yielded improved mechanical properties and indicate that while some standard carbon fiber composite processing methods can be used, CNTs have unique microstructural features that require techniques tailored to access the hierarchical features of CNTs. This presentation will discuss the evolution of structural CNT mechanical property advancements and collaboration mechanisms for research across federal labs, academia, and industry that accelerated the maturation of structural CNTs.