April 27, 2005

NASA, Rice University to Work on Efficient Power Cables

HOUSTON (AP) -- NASA announced Tuesday a $11 million project with Rice University - a leader in nanotechnology - to build lighter, more efficient power cables.

"As we prepare our vision for going into the cosmos, this is a small step, but a significant one," said Jefferson Howell, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center. "To take humans out and away from Earth on the journey into space we need to develop new technologies."

Scientists at the Houston university plan to make cables out of carbon nanotubes. The hotdog-shaped cylinder of carbon atoms can conduct electricity up to 10 times more efficiently than copper at about one-sixth the weight.

Cables carry essential power but are a potential fire hazard in a space shuttle. They also contribute a significant fraction of the shuttle's weight.

Researchers at Rice and the Johnson Space Center will try to create about 1 yard of the prototype power cable by the end of the four-year grant. Doing this will not be easy, said Richard Smalley, director of Rice's Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory.

"This is not a straightforward, applied research project where we know it's been done and it works," he said. "We're going to do major pioneering research during this process. That's one of the reasons I like this. It forces us to go through the hard developments that are at the core of what's holding nanotube research back worldwide in nearly every application."

If the project is successful, the technology could be used to develop a fishing-line-like version of the cable that could carry power around the globe, Smalley said.

"One day we're going to wire the whole world with this stuff."


Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com


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