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NCSU Researchers Develop Process To Make World's Strongest Polyester Fibers

A new fiber-making process developed at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) College of Textiles, Raleigh, N.C., enables production of what researchers believe are the strongest polyester fibers ever made using a process considered industrially acceptable. According to Dr. John A. Cuculo and Dr. Richard Kotek, leaders of the NCSU research team, the process is based on two established processes, taking them a step further with respect to controlling thread line dynamics, and modifying the molecular architecture to offer  "exceptionally high-performance fiber properties."

The horizontal liquid isothermal bath (hLIB) process technology is a modified version of LIB technology developed in the 1990s at NCSU for laboratory-scale production of high-tenacity polyethylene terephthalate and polyethylene naphthalate fibers. The hLIB process is intended to enable industrial-scale production of these fibers from conventional melt polymerized polymer, using melt-spinning to form the fibers but allowing additional controllable variables to be used, as in wet-spinning. As such, it hopefully could replace the traditional melt spin-draw process.

Compared with the currently used fiber-making processes, the new system is more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient, is simpler to use, and requires less capital equipment. For example, the multi-stage draw unit used in the traditional spin-draw process could be eliminated, and the drawing or heat-setting could be part of a relatively simple one-step continuous spin-draw process.

"We have shown some very marked property enhancement by this process on a single filament," Cuculo said. "The next step is to reproduce it in multifilament."

Cuculo and Kotek have proposed a patent for their work and are seeking funding to help them continue their research. Among their needs is a traversing high-speed winder that has processing speeds of about 5,000 meters per minute.

January 13, 2009