British researchers say they have developed nano reinforcing fibers made of silica that could create composites that are stronger and lighter than those made with traditional glass reinforcements. Almost defying logic, they say that the fibers become stronger as they become smaller. Their next goal is to test composites made of the materials for applications such as aircraft and boats.
“Usually if you increase the strength of a fiber you have to increase its diameter and thus its weight, but our research has shown that as you decrease the size of silica nanofibers their strength increases, yet they still remain very lightweight,” says Principal Research Fellow Gilberto Brambilla at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC). “Our discovery could change the future of composites and high strength materials across the world and have a huge impact on the marine, aviation and security industries.”
The ORC team says that silica nanowires are 10 times stronger than conventional glass-reinforced plastic.
“When (silicon nanofibers) become very, very small they behave in a completely different way,” Bambrilla says. “They stop being fragile and don’t break like glass but instead become ductile and break like plastic. This means they can be strained a lot.”