Ray Baughman and colleagues, writing in Thursday's issue of the British science weekly Nature, say they have experimentally made up to 100 metre lengths of fibre, at the rate of 70 centimetres per minute. They placed single-walled nanotubes in a rotating bath of aqueous polyvinyl alcohol, yielding gelatinous fibres which were then coagulated, washed in an acetone bath, dried and then reeled up.
The result, a composite that comprises 60 percent carbon nanotubes, is seven times stronger than previous attempts to spin carbon-nanotube fibres and many times quicker to make, they say.
Weight for weight and diameter for diameter, it is five times stronger than steel. It matches spider silk for tensile strength - the strength needed to distort a substance before it is irretrievably deformed - and absorbs more than three times as much energy as spider dragline silk before it breaks. It easily surpasses commercial rivals such as Kevlar and graphic fibre on every test. The fibres are "tougher than any natural or synthetic fibre described so far," claim Baughman's spin doctors.
Mmmmm, space elevators...