Q-Flo and Plasan to craft body armour from 'elastic smoke'

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University of Cambridge spin-out Q-Flo announced it will commercialise its process for making super-strong carbon nanotube fibre through a joint venture with an Israeli body armour manufacturer.

Q-Flo signed a deal with Israel-based Plasan to form TorTech. The joint-venture company will commercialise Q-Flo’s carbon nanotube fibre in the area of body armour and composite motor vehicle bodies.

This is the first time the technology will be scaled up for industrial production. The current process for making the fibre is only capable of turning out one gram per day.

Prof Alan Windle and Dr Martin Pick, who spun out Q-Flo in 2004, developed a process that winds fibre from an ‘elastic smoke’ consisting of floating carbon nanotubes.

Prof Windle explained the smoke is created by growing carbon nanotubes on tiny floating iron catalysts inside a reactor. The floating nanotubes entangle, he said, and create an ‘elastic smoke’. This smoke can then be wound up into a continuous fibre using Q-Flo’s specially designed machine.

‘It’s a little bit like if you imagine the medieval lady with her spinning wheel,’ he added. ‘That’s doing with wool like what we do with smoke.’

The fibre is so thin that it is barely visible to the naked eye. It is believed the fibre could be used to make ropes, cables, fabric and composite materials, as well as body armour.

While the material’s axial strength and stiffness is in the range of conventional carbon fibre, its toughness exceeds Kevlar by three times. At the same time it is also lighter in weight.

Its yarn-like nature also means that it can be successfully woven into the matrix resin of composites.