The innovative technology was jointly developed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), the Jefferson Lab of the U.S. Department of Energy, and NASA Langley Research Center. As per the deal, BNNT LLC bought the intellectual property rights to synthesize BNNTs (Boron Nitride Nanotubes) used for commercial and scientific research.
BNNTs were first manufactured in 1995. Since then, they have been provided only in small amounts to other research laboratories. BNNT LLC plans to use sophisticated methods for increasing present production rates of BNNTs by a factor of 100.
BNNTs have a structure analogous to that of carbon nanotubes. These powerful versatile nanotubes demonstrate exotic properties that are useful in the research and commercial industry. They can be used to manufacture ceramic and polymer composites to produce a new range of aerospace components, batteries, thin coatings, armor, and dentistry products. They find use in fire retardant cabling, radiation shielding, electrical insulation, energy harvesting, sensors and robotics. Their biomedical applications include cancer treatment, and bone and nerve tissue regeneration.
BNNTs demonstrate piezoelectricity, which means they generate electricity due to pressure. They offer protection against ultraviolet and neutron radiation and can withstand extreme temperatures in the range of up to 800°C. NASA believes that BNNTs’ energy harvesting quality enables safer and longer aerospace mission by delivering auxiliary power for health monitoring systems and electronic devices.
According to Catharine Fay, BNNT Program Manager at NASA Langley Research Center, this technology will not only be used for the synthesis of BNNTs, but could also be used to produce other nanomaterials that are critical for mission applications.