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Published: 12 February 2015

Carbon nanotube research could enable lighter, faster electric motors

Researchers in the ATI have developed a revolutionary technique for creating large sheets of carbon nanotubes which could completely change the way electric motors are designed.

The researchers in Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) collaborated with global chemical company Thomas Swan Ltd to conduct the ground-breaking research, which has been published in ‘Carbon’ journal.

The team found that by using a technique known as ‘electrospinning’ whereby a very high electrostatic potential is applied to liquid, it is possible to create a sheet of aligned carbon nanotubes measuring over 1.5m long – the largest area demonstrated to date. Since these sheets have the potential to supersede the conductivity of copper but are at least three to four times lighter, this technique could enable the manufacture of electric motors that are lighter and faster than conventional copper-based ones.

The research could pave the way for revolutionary designs in the automotive and aerospace industries. It could even bring closer to reality a lightweight, electrically-powered exo-skeleton for people with poor mobility or for workers requiring a significant amount of physical force.

The research project was led by Simon King while undertaking an Engineering Doctorate degree at Surrey with Thomas Swan Ltd. The Engineering Doctorate in MiNMaT (Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies) is a four-year doctorate that enables students to undertake a long-term research project within a sponsoring organisation while studying at the University.

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI, commented, “It is recognised that large-scale carbon nanotube sheets and wires could replace copper wires since they are able to carry more current for a fraction of the weight. By demonstrating a technique for producing large area sheets of aligned carbon nanotubes, this research represents a major breakthrough that could translate in the development of electric motors, which account for up to 70 per cent of total industrial electricity consumption. We are eagerly awaiting the next translation stage of the research to practical applications.

“The project is an excellent example of Surrey’s successful collaboration with industry through the Engineering Doctorate programme.”

The research paper, ‘Highly aligned arrays of super resilient carbon nanotubes by steam purification’ is published in ‘Carbon’, a journal published by Elsevier.

 

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