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Materials used for a soldier’s personal protection gear may be tough enough for vehicles too. A new US Army study demonstrates that polymers filled with carbon nanotubes could potentially improve how unmanned vehicles dissipate energy.

A team led by the US Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory is conducting theoretical research through computer modelling.

Researchers said polyurethanes are versatile materials used in a broad variety of applications, including coatings, foams and solid elastomers. As film adhesives, for example, they are commonly used as bonding agents between layers of glass and as polymer back layers in the transparent glass or plastic composites such as vision blocks on side windows used in the tactical vehicles. In particular, high-performance segmented PUU polymers exhibit versatile physical and mechanical properties.

In this research, the team used computer modelling to look into the nature of the materials.

Hierarchical composites are a promising area of research for the Army vehicles as they are less susceptible to corrosion, leading to early component death.

Dr Yelena R Sliozberg, a computational materials scientist at the laboratory said “Carbon nanotube/polymer composites have desirable electrical and thermal characteristics that exhibit behaviours superior to conventional fibre materials.”

This team’s results strongly indicate the effectiveness of incorporation of aligned carbon nanotubes for microstructure optimization of hierarchical PUU polymers in the matrix, Sliozberg said, according to

Future Army vehicles could see an improvement in their structural materials since they are less susceptible to corrosion, lightweight and have higher electrical conductivity than traditional elastomers. The materials also show great potential to protect vehicles against static build-up and discharge and lightning strikes.

The study was published in the journal Polymer.