Researchers have shown that the extremely thin but very strong boron nitride nanotubes fabric can help build lighter and more fuel-efficient fighter planes and space shuttles.
The researchers determined the interface strength between boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) and epoxy and other polymers.
“We think that this could be the first step in a process that changes the way we design and make materials that affect the future of travel on this planet and exploration of other worlds beyond our own,” said lead researcher Changhong Ke, associate professor at Binghamton University in New York.
First proposed and synthesised by researchers at University of California, Berkeley in the mid 1990’s, BNNTs are a type of one-dimensional nanostructure.
Ke’s group found that BNNTs in polymethyl metacrylate (PMMA) form much stronger interfaces than comparable carbon tubes with the same polymer.
Furthermore, BNNT-epoxy interfaces are even stronger. A stronger interface means that a larger load can be transferred from the polymer to nanotubes, a critical characteristic for superior mechanical performance of composite materials.
Future airplane wings and spacecraft hulls built of those BNNT composite materials could be lighter and more fuel efficient, while maintaining the strength needed to withstand the rigors of flight, the researchers said.
BNNTs can shield space radiation better than the more common carbon nanotubes (CNTs) which would make them an ideal building material for spacecraft.
The study was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.