Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs) Futuristic Body
M.Waseem Younas, Textile Institute of Pakistan.
The body armours used by defense sector are not reliable when
it comes to lethal weapons, modern bullets, and explosives with
shrapnel. Carbon Nanotubes(CNTs ) are very small, lightweight,
and many times stronger than steel and Kevlar. The fascinating
physical, mechanical, and electrical properties of CNTs are
ideal for futuristic ballistic armour incorporated with
electronics and microsensors. This paper provides an insight
into the various applications by CNT’S which will enable new
defense applications, including; smart lighter anti-ballistic
body armours, wearable computers, switchable camouflage capable
of solar energy storage and protection against chemicals and
The defense personnel and civilians fatalities have been
increasing in the recent years. There is an urgent need to
provide better security against terrorist’s violence. At
present, the bulletproof vests are made of Kevlar, Twaron, and
Dyneema. These can provide protection from low to medium level
but not sufficient protection to high calibre bullets and modern
weapons. These materials also have some major weaknesses like
high cost, bulkiness and discomfort in wearing.
Nanotechnology gives a new idea that “small and smart” is
more relevant. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) brought revolutionary
technological changes for a wide range of military applications
and have potential to change the face of humankind.
CNTs are tubular forms of carbon that can be envisaged as
graphene sheets (two-dimensional graphite planes) rolled into a
cylindrical form. Carbon nanotubes are extremely small; the
diameter of one carbon nanotube is one nanometer, which is one
ten-thousandth (1/10,000) the diameter of a human hair. Each
nanotube is made up of a hexagonal network of covalently bonded
carbon atoms. Carbon nanotubes can be produced to varying
lengths. Scientists have developed three main methods to create
CNTs: arc discharge, laser ablation, and chemical vapour
deposition (CVD)[1,2].CVD is the most popular method for
CNTs are of two types: single-walled and multi-walled. A
single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) consists of a single
graphene sheet rolled up into a cylindrical shape, whereas a
multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWNT) comprises several concentric
graphene cylinders. The different structures have individual
properties that make the nanotubes appropriate for different
applications [1,2]. For body armours, single-walled nanotubes
are preferred for their superior mechanical properties.
Fig. 1. Structure of Single-Walled (SWNT) (a-d) and
Multi-Walled (MWNT) carbon NanoTubes (e,f ). (a) Shows a
schematic of an individual helical SWMT. (b)Shows a
cross-sectional view (TEM image) of a bundle of SWNTs
[transverse view shown in (d)]. Each nanotube has a
diameter of 1.4 nm and the tube-tube distance in the
bundles is 0.315 nm. (c) Shows the high-resolution TEM
micrograph of a 1.5 nm diameter SWNT. (e) is the schematic
of a MWNT and (f) shows a high resolution TEM image of an
individual MWNT. The distance between horizontal fringes
(layers of the tube) in (f ) is 0.34 nm (close to the
interlayer spacing in graphite)
Pictures Source: Pulickel M. Ajayan1 and Otto Z. Zhou2
.Applications of Carbon Nanotubes.
Current Body armors
The latest bullet-proof vests are made of layers of fibrous
materials. Upon impact the material absorbs the energy of the
bullet and disperses it throughout the material. This slows down
the bullet and stops it from penetrating the body .
High performance fibers and yarns commonly used for ballistic
protection are S-glass, aramids (e.g., Kevlar 29, Kevlar 49,
Kevlar 129, Kevlar KM2, Twaron), highly oriented ultra high
molecular weight polyethylene (e.g., Dyneema, Spectra), PBO
(e.g., Zylon) which is a p-phenylene-2-6-benzobisoxazole, new
polymeric fibers such as Polypyridobisimidazole (PIPD) (referred
to as M5) etc. These fibers are characterized by low density,
high tensile and compressive strength, high modulus, high
rupture strain, resistance to thermal degradation and
high-energy absorption capacity .
These are generally sufficient for domestic protection; the
disadvantage to these types of armors is that the wearer of the
vest is still forced to absorb all of the energy possessed by
the projectile, resulting in blunt force trauma, possibly
causing injury to the wearer. The effects of this can vary from
the wind being knocked out of the wearer, bruising of the skin
or even fatal injuries to the internal organs. A superior
bullet-proof vest would instead deflect both the bullet and the
majority of the energy possessed by the bullet away from the
wearer reducing the possibility of blunt force trauma .
Source: Dr. V K Saraswat-Advanced
Materials & Technologies for Defence.
Potential of CNTs for futuristic
The idea of smart defense clothing has come up with the
advent of nanotechnology. CNTs offer a promising future as a
ballistic armour due to their extraordinary properties like high
tensile strength (30~60Gpa - 100 times stronger than steel per
unit of weight), Young’s Modulus of (1 Tpa), 40% strain to yield
in tensile tests, high energy absorption capacity and low
weight. A Ballistic figure of merit U* for ballistic
applications has been proposed where
There are three different approaches for utilizing carbon
nanotubes to enhance the ballistic performance of body armor.
- Incorporation of CNTs into PMCs
(polymer-matrix-composites), metals or ceramics to enhance
their hardness or toughness and erosion resistance.
- Use of neat or composite fibers of CNTs in the form of
woven or non-woven fabrics, for achieving exceptional
- Reinforcing the armor grade fibers like Kevlar, UHMWPE
(Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene) or PBO with CNTs to
improve their elastic modulus and energy absorption capacity
Research and Developing Technologies
Worldwide commercial interest in carbon nanotubes (CNTs) is
reflected in a production capacity that presently exceeds
several thousand tons per year .
“CNTs as ballistic armour” is one of the most robust growth
areas of research around the globe. Many researchers around the
world are developing and studying them for commercial
applications. The major powers of the world (US, UK, China,
Australia, France, and Canada) are making significant strides to
develop new generation lightweight, body armours based on CNTs
Mylvaganam and Zhang have shown that this technology has the
capability of bouncing off a bullet with body armor comprising
six layers of carbon nanotube yarns, each of 100 µm thickness,
and muzzle energy of 320 J .
Amendment II introduced a new ballistic armor named as “Rynohide”.
They claim that this is the world’s first commercially available
cost effective Carbon Nanotube armor and is much: lighter,
stronger, more flexible, thinner and has less back-face
deformation (how far the bullet pushes into you), which means it
hurts less when shot .
A lot of ballistic textile research and development is
conducted at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development
and Extension Center, Natick, Mass., in collaboration with fiber
and ceramics companies, academic institutions and other
entities, with a goal of developing ever lighter-weight,
higher-performance materials that can improve soldiers'
mobility, performance and comfort.
Natick is currently working on a project with Nanocomp. They
are producing small amounts of carbon nanotube yarn and nonwoven
sheet materials in its research-scale facility. Nanocomp. is
preparing to open a 40,000-square-foot pilot facility, and
within the next three years plans to open a 100,000 square foot
production facility that would produce more than 1 million
kilometers of yarn and 50 acres of 3-by-6- and 4-by-8-foot
nonwoven sheets annually .
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) is an
interdepartmental research centre at MIT. The ISN's mission is
to use nanotechnology to dramatically improve the survivability
of soldiers. The ultimate goal is a futuristic,
nanotechnology-enabled battle suit that provides superior
protection from ballistic, chemical, and biological threats and
offers autonomous medical monitoring and intervention. The ISN
currently has eleven industry partners, including DuPont and
Raytheon, who collaborate on research and will transition
promising laboratory results into real products for soldiers,
police, firefighters, and other first responders .
The MIT’s researchers are now working on CNTs-based sensors
to detect a wide range of harmful gases and solar cells for high
energy storage .
The Stanford Robust Systems Group, however, has made
significant progress in the last 18 months, advancing from
building individual carbon nanotube transistors to simple
electronic circuits made by interconnecting the transistors, and
this week to a complete computer made from an ensemble of just
142 low-power transistors. I.B.M. has also been more vocal and
optimistic about the potential for CNTs.In the coming days,
switchable camouflage and wearable clothing with tablet
computers will be made from CNTs.These suits can adjust body
temperature and perform operations with the help of solar
CNTs for electronic applications are still a strong focus for
research. CNTs and their compounds exhibit extraordinary
electrical properties, and have a huge potential in e-textiles
such as switchable fabrics for improved thermal control sensors
for body and brain sensing, environmental and situational
awareness, wearable computers/displays for visual
feedback-integrated into a smart bulletproof vests, suits, socks
or helmet ,and energy conversion devices such as solar cells.
Fig. 1. Trends in CNT research and commercialization. (A)
Journal publications and issued
worldwide patents per year, along with estimated annual
production capacity 
CNTs, CNTs-based nanocomposites, and their yarns(due to their
remarkable properties) have great potential to revolutionize the
defense industry through lightweight, durable, high performance,
and comfort bulletproof clothing with interesting functions
like: improved, thermal control and solar energy storage,
barrier against chemical and biological gases, sense distant
sounds of vehicles or movement of enemies etc. I think it’s an
intriguing field and there is tremendous scope in this area.
The CNTs research is driving new developments and it will
open new horizons. As a result, useful modern defense
applications will be available for the betterment of society.
 Polina Pine-Atomistic Simulation of Nano-Electro
Mechanical Systems Based on Carbon Nanotubes.
 Http://composite.about.com/od /aboutcarbon/a/What-Are-Carbon-Nanotubes.html.
 Emma Lecours, Megan Swain, Jonathan Boulanger,
Sarah Xu- Superman Suit: Futuristic Body Armor, March 31st 2008.
 Y. R. Mahajan Carbon nanotubes and the pursuit of
the ultimate body armor http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=17548.php#ixzz2ddmIn6bY.
Tawfick4,R.H.Baughman5,and A.J.Hart4†.Carbon Nanotubes - Present
and Future Commercial Applications.
 Mylvaganam, K., & Zhang, L.C. Ballistic resistance
capacity of carbon nanotubes. Nanotechnology 18(2007)
 Janet Bealer Rodie,
Managing Editor.Life-Saving Fabrics. http://www.textileworld.com/Issues/2009/May-June/Nonwovens-Technical_Textiles/Life-Saving_Fabrics
 Dr Ayman El-Fatatry- Systems Engineering Innovation
Centre. (SEIC),.Loughborough University- Defence Applications.
I would to thank Mr. Zaheer Riaz (Senior Manager Pnc,TATA
Textile Ltd.) and M. Naeem Younas (Business Franchise Manager,
Augment Worldwide Franchise Associates) for an inspiration for
this research project.