Nanotube paint: looking for trouble

Dr. Mohamed Saafi with nanotube paint sample (University of Strathclyde)

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have just announced the development of a new paint that can spot movement in large structures like bridges, mines and tunnels and alert authorities before there is a serious problem.

It’s made from aligned carbon nanotubes, which can carry an electric current, and fly ash, which is a byproduct of coal burning. The paint can be sprayed onto any surface, and electrodes are attached to it, according to developers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. If the nanotubes bend, their conductivity will change, which will be detected by the electrodes. Small wireless transmitters placed throughout the structure would receive data from the electrodes. If they detect a change in conductivity, this would be considered a sign of a defect in the structure.

Currently most inspections are done visually and the process is expensive, time-consuming and subject to error. Dr. Saafi estimates that the nanopaint would cost significantly less, perhaps as little as 1%.

“There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward.”

Tests on prototypes have shown that the paint to be highly effective and the researchers are planning on testing it on a large-scale structure soon.