A new textile material that has been produced from long carbon nanotubes could be the key to realising significant functional performance benefits in defence and aerospace applications such as body armour, according to its developers.

Nanocomp Technologies Inc says the material, which is available in nonwoven sheet and yarn formats, is extremely lightweight and strong, and efficiently conducts both electricity and heat.

"We believe we are on the cusp of delivering the promise of carbon nanotube materials," said Peter Antoinette, Nanocomp president and CEO.

"Like our predecessors in performance products who developed Gore-Tex and Tyvek, we have a product platform with vast real-world functionality."

Scientists have long known of the electro-mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes. They are 100 times stronger than steel, one-third the weight of aluminium and extremely conductive of both heat and electricity.

Antoinette also said that commercial manufacturing processes to date have mostly produced only short carbon nanotubes - usually tens of microns long - that resemble a powder in final form.

These nanotubes can be quite difficult to incorporate into manufactured goods and have limited use in industrial applications.

Nanocomp has, however, now managed to produce extremely long (hundreds of microns to millimetres) and pure nanotubes from which functional materials, nanotube yarns and nonwoven sheets can be built.

In the near term, Nanocomp expects these materials to be used in conjunction with carbon fibres and aramids to reduce weight and improve performance of body armour.