Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a process that can produce ultrafine fibres, whose diameter is measured in nanometres. These are exceptionally strong and tough. These fibres are inexpensive and easy to produce. It can be used for applications, such as protective armour and nano-composites. The process is called as gel electro-spinning and is described in a paper in Journal of Materials Science.
This process uses a variation of a traditional method called gel spinning and adds electrical forces. The results are ultrafine fibres of polyethylene that match or outperform the properties of some of the strongest fibre materials, such as Kevlar and Dyneema, which are used in bullet-stopping body armour.
Compared to carbon fibres and ceramic fibres, which are widely used in composite materials, the new gel-electrospun polyethylene fibres have similar degrees of strength but are much tougher and have a lower density. The material turned out to be better in significant ways. The strengths are about a factor of two better than the commercial materials and comparable to the best available academic materials. And their toughness is about an order of magnitude better.
The new gel-electrospun fibres seem to combine the desirable qualities of strength, stiffness, and toughness in ways that have few equals. These results might lead to protective materials that are as strong as existing ones but less bulky, making them more practical. Rutledge stated that these ultra-fibres may have applications that they have not thought about because they have just begun understanding the level of toughness of these fibres.