Buckypaper may seem like a cute name for something, but it holds the promise for the next great leap in composite material technology. Buckypaper may allow for everything from lightweight ultra strong automobiles and air planes to super efficient computers.
The development of buckypaper started in the mid 1980s when a British scientist named Harry Kroto, working with other researchers at Rice University in Houston, was studying how stars created carbob, the basis of all known life. Kroto and his fellow researchers discovered a new form of carbon molecule that resembled a sphere of sixty carbon atoms. Because of its strange resemblance to two geodesic domes put together, the substance was dubbed buckminsterfullerene, or “buckyballs” for short after the inventor of the geodesic dome. For their discovery, Kroto and his Rice colleagues were awarded a Noble Prize in 1996.
A Japanese researcher named Sumio Iijima developed a tube like version of buckyballs while working at the University of Arizona. This substance is called carbon nanotubes, which are fifty thousand times thinner than human hair.
Researchers have since found a way to manufacture buckypaper by suspending carbon nanotubes in a liquid solution and filtering them through a fine mesh. The resulting material is ten times lighter than steel and potentially five hundred times stronger. It conducts electricity like copper or silicon and disperses heat like steel or brass.
Scientists suggest that commercial applications for buckypaper are about twelve months away, once means are developed to manufacture it in quantity. These commercial applications include:
“If exposed to an electric charge, buckypaper could be used to illuminate computer and television screens. It would be more energy-efficient, lighter, and would allow for a more uniform level of brightness than current cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) technology.
“As one of the most thermally conductive materials known, buckypaper lends itself to the development of heat sinks that would allow computers and other electronic equipment to disperse heat more efficiently than is currently possible. This, in turn, could lead to even greater advances in electronic miniaturization.
“Because it has an unusually high current-carrying capacity, a film made from buckypaper could be applied to the exteriors of airplanes. Lightning strikes then would flow around the plane and dissipate without causing damage.
“Films also could protect electronic circuits and devices within airplanes from electromagnetic interference, which can damage equipment and alter settings. Similarly, such films could allow military aircraft to shield their electromagnetic “signatures,” which can be detected via radar.”
Buckypaper could also be used for applications ranging from space craft to repair of damaged retinas. The military, which is providing some of the funding for buckypaper research, is interested in the material for applications such as vehicle armor and stealth material for aircraft.
Sources: Superstrong ‘Buckypaper’ Could Be Dream Material, Bill Kaczor, AP, October 17th, 2008
Stronger Than Steel, Harder Than Diamonds: Researcher Developing Numerous Uses For Extraordinary ‘Buckypaper’, Florida State University, October 21st, 2008