Spiderman's secret weapon! This manufacturing technique allows us to form very thin, spider-web-like fibres (ranging from ~50 nanometres to a few microns) by pulling very thin strings out of a droplet of polymer, under a high voltage (~10-60 kV).
Nanomaterials in the polymer can align as the polymer fibre stretches and dries, and the whole material can be collected on a drum, a flat sheet or even a textile fabric for applications in energy harvesting, tissue engineering, composites, electrical shielding and electrical conductivity applications. Electrospun mats are widely used for filtration, energy storage and are the base ingredient of ultralight sponges.
This way we can harness the possibilities opened by nanomaterials on the large scale; for example, aligning carbon nanotubes, removing the polymer and finding a way to connect the nanotubes with strong sp2-bonds can lead to electrical cables that are as conductive as copper, but up to seven times lighter.
Currently we are investigating many applications, including:
- Carbon nanotube (CNT) wire & yarn spinning, as a lightweight highly conductive alternative to copper wires and organic antennas
- Nanofibre composites and composite reinforcements, for next generation lightweight enhanced composite materials (magnetic CNT composite pictured below)
- Large area nanomaterial alignment, for industrially viable roll to roll fabrication of nanomaterial devices
- High output triboelectric textiles, for personal power generation
- Supercapacitor electrodes and dielectric separators
- Nanofibre biological scaffolds
- Electrochemical biological sensors.
S.G. King, L. McCafferty, V. Stolojan, S.R.P. Silva, Highly aligned arrays of super resilient carbon nanotubes by steam purification, Carbon N. Y. 84 (2015) 130–137. doi:10.1016/j.carbon.2014.11.061.
Simon G. King, Vlad Stolojan, S. Ravi P. Silva, Large area uniform electrospun polymer nanofibres by balancing of the electrostatic field, Reactive and Functional Polymers, 2017, doi.org:10.1016/j.reactfunctpolym.2017.10.017