Los Alamos National Laboratory, operated by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy, and Carbon Designs, Inc. (CDI), today signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to collaborate on the development of ultra-strong fibers made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). CDI will initially invest $2 million in this joint effort to develop fibers expected to be many times stronger than any current engineering materials. The carbon nanotube is a scientific development stemming from the discovery of soccer-ball shaped carbon molecules in 1985 by the chemistry department at Rice University. These microscopic molecules are usually a few nanometers in diameter, or billionths of a meter; comparatively, a virus is 100 nanometers in size. The current CRADA is one of the largest sponsored research agreements ever signed by the Laboratory.
CDI was founded by world-renowned physicist Dr. Brad C. Edwards and Dallas native Brent N. Waller. Dr. Edwards is known for his breakthrough work with NASA proving out the space elevator theory as well as multiple patents and authoring the book, The Space Elevator. As stated by Dr. Edwards: "Part of that experience led me to researching all the necessary components and attempting to source some of the strongest materials ever produced. The super-strength materials I needed for that project do not yet exist, but what I found were very bright scientists at some of the top science institutions in the world that had created something of tremendous real value." As investor Brent Waller stated: "It just made sense to me and our other investors to take advantage of Dr. Edwards' knowledge of the scientists and institutions that have made valid progress, then complete their progress with the proper level of funding to bring these materials to the market. We are not in the business of funding 'someday technology,' we know what we want, we know what we need to spend, and along with our industry partners, our initial materials will come to market within 18-months."
The current project will be based on an existing LANL invention developed by Los Alamos researcher Dr. Yuntian Zhu of the Materials Science and Technology Division. CDI has also signed an exclusive license with LANL for rights to use the Laboratory's intellectual property. The partners expect new patents to be developed during the collaboration. The project involves both developing new methods for synthesizing carbon nanotubes and new technologies for making ultra-strong fibers from the carbon nanotubes.
The work to put this exciting new partnership between industry and LANL in place was led by Randy Tremper and his colleagues in the Technology Transfer Division. "Work on carbon nanotubes has been going on at the Lab for some time, but it has not been as well known as the work at other institutions" said Tremper. "This collaboration will definitely change this. It is now likely that this project will lead to the first commercially available CNT-based material for structural applications."
The long-range plan is for CDI, with LANL's assistance, to develop a supply of and production method for ultra-strong CNT fibers. According to Dr. Zhu, "The ultra-strong CNT fibers will significantly impact NASA's new mission in space explorations and revolutionize many high strength, light weight applications such as recreational equipment and body armors."