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Name: Elsie R.
Status: educator
Grade: N/A
Location:  MO
Country: USA
Date: N/A

Can nanotubes be used in the construction of dams and levees?

Hi Elsie,

Carbon nanotubes exhibit, as you may have heard, very high tensile strength. But tensile strength is basically useless in the construction of dams and levees, which are subjected mainly to compressive stress. In compression, carbon nanotubes have very little more to offer than traditionally used materials such as concrete.

Regardless, the use of carbon nanotubes in any sizeable structure is impractical, since they are little more than laboratory curiosities at this time, and have only been made in very small quantities. Cost is another factor. The related but less exotic material, carbon fiber, which also excels in tensile (but not compressive) strength, is currently available but is very expensive. Once material made of carbon nanotubes is commercially available, it is expected that it will be far more expensive still. A dam-sized structure made of this material would probably bankrupt the country! Also note that materials like carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes are made from oil. The amount of oil needed to make a dam, made from this material, would be astronomical! So the best material for this application is still good old concrete.


Bob Wilson.

The cost of such a construction material would be out of sight. At present, nanotubes and nanotechnology is very new. No one knows what applications might be found, but at the present state of development, dams and levees would not be very practical.

Vince Calder

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