Carbon nanotubes made weightless armor that is stronger than Kevlar

(ORDO NEWS) — Weight is often a key factor for scientists pushing the boundaries of bulletproof materials. Their goal is to create armor that ensures the wearer’s safety while also increasing their mobility. And it seems that soon it will be possible to forget about heavy body armor.

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a new type of ultra-light armor material, described as a “nanofiber mat”, that has a unique chemical composition that allows it to outperform Kevlar and steel.

The basis of the new form of armor are tiny cylinders of carbon one atom thick. They are commonly known as “carbon nanotubes” and have repeatedly shown promising properties for a wide range of next-generation materials.

These nanotubes are suitable for literally everything from better transistors to the treatment of permanent nerve damage .

To adapt nanotubes to armor materials, the authors of the new study took thicker-walled versions and combined them with Kevlar nanofibers.

The idea was to build on the earlier research demonstrating the impact absorption potential of these materials and try to turn them into an even more functional armor solution.

“Nanofiber materials are very attractive for protective applications because the nanofibers themselves have outstanding strength, toughness and stiffness compared to macrofibers,” explained Ramatasan Thewamaran, lead researcher.

Carbon nanotube materials so far show the best energy absorption, and we wanted to see if we could improve their performance even further.

To do this, scientists fiddled with the chemical composition for a long time until they found a winning recipe.

They synthesized Kevlar nanofibers and incorporated only a small amount of them into “mats” of carbon nanotubes, with the right ratio of both, which led to the formation of hydrogen bonds between the fibers. The result was a dramatic increase in productivity.

“The hydrogen bond is a dynamic bond, and therefore it can continuously break and form again, which allows it to dissipate a large amount of energy in the process,” Tevamaran noted.

“In addition, the hydrogen bonds make this interaction more rigid, which strengthens and stiffens the nanofiber mat.

When we modified the interfacial interactions in our mats by adding Kevlar nanofibers, we were able to achieve an almost 100% improvement in energy dissipation performance at certain supersonic impact velocities.”

What is carbon nanotube armor capable of?

Carbon nanotubes made weightless armor that is stronger than Kevlar 2

The team tested the material with a microprojectile impact test system, which uses lasers to launch microbullets into samples of the material at varying speeds.

“Our system is designed in such a way that we can select one bullet under a microscope and fire it at a target in an extremely controlled manner, at a controlled speed that can vary from 100 meters to more than 1 kilometer per second,” Tevamaran said.

“This allowed us to do time-scale experiments where we could observe the reaction of the material—when hydrogen bond interactions occur.”

Experiments have shown that the new material protects against high-speed impacts better than Kevlar cloth and steel plates.

This provides the basis for high performance ultra-light armor materials, and not just in body armor. The material could allow spacecraft to absorb the impact of high-speed space debris, the researchers say.

“Our nanofiber mats have protective properties that are far superior to other material systems at a much lower weight,” said Tewamaran,


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