Carbon Nanotube Aluminum Matrix Composites

Report No. ARL-TR-5252
Authors: Brent J. Carey; Jerome T. Tzeng; Shashi Karna
Date/Pages: August 2010; 22 pages
Abstract: The material demands of advanced weapons technologies have pushed the limits of available metals and alloys, emphasizing the need for next-generation lightweight, multi-functional materials. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs), whose tensile strength and thermal and electrical conductivity along their axis exceedingly surpass virtually all known materials, have been shown to provide marked increases in the mechanical strength and hardness of metal matrix composites (MMCs). Here, we explore the viability of a novel CNT MMC: a vertically aligned array (forest) of CNTs infiltrated with aluminum to achieve an anisotropic, continuous fiber composite. The application of a sputter-coated layer of aluminum on the CNTs resulted in the encapsulation of all exposed nanotubes for light deposition and the formation of a ~1-µm-thick composite layer for longer deposition, a promising result which strongly suggests an affinity between the two materials. This observation highlights the potential for non-destructively impregnating the CNT forests with aluminum, a technique demonstrated previously with a polymer matrix. Additionally, preliminary electrical testing and further aluminum deposition revealed novel behavior, which shows promise for utilization of these nanocomposites for other applications such as catalysis and as compliant, highly conductive electrodes in nanoscale devices. Upon refinement of the infiltration procedure, these composites should significantly improve upon already-existing materials for applications where greater structural integrity, thermal diffusivity, and high electrical conductance are desired.
Distribution: Approved for public release
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Last Update / Reviewed: August 1, 2010