VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canadian defense scientists are aiming to create armor that is 25 percent lighter than existing materials while offering the same or more protection.
DRDC is the science and research organization for the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence.
BNNTs are an advanced material similar in structure to carbon nanotubes. Both types of miniature materials are developed in a laboratory and are known for their strength and fire retardant properties.
But BNNTs have an advantage in that they can survive temperatures to around 800 degrees Celsius, about twice as high as carbon nanotubes. BNNTs are more chemically stable, and they are also transparent.
In 2009, US researchers were able to create the first practical macroscopic yarn from BNNTs.
Canada has now taken that further.
In August 2014, the Canadian government's National Research Council in Ottawa announced it had made a breakthrough with the world's first pilot scale production of boron nitride nanotubes. Previously, BNNTs were being produced in very small quantities but the NRC's process involves a production rate 100 times faster than any earlier technologies.
That could pave the way for mass production of the material in a fibrous form.
Although such material will eventually be useful in the automotive, aerospace and construction industries, the focus for Canadian scientists is first using BNNTs to improve armor protection.
NRC and DRDC will now work together, with Canadian industry, to not only produce the new material for the Canadian military but to position Canadian companies to take advantage of the technology.
"We're interested in industry having the capability eventually to answer DND's [Department of National Defence] demands," Vezina said. "We're interested in challenging industry to take every opportunity to innovate so they can meet or ideally surpass our expectations."
NRC and DRDC will now create a roadmap for further development and testing and cooperation with Canadian universities and industry.
Vezina said the entire process is expected to take up to seven years. But NRC officials are optimistic that some products could be developed within the next several years.
Although Canada is focusing on BNNTs, Vezina said it would not overlook other potential materials for armor or protective equipment, such as graphene.
Graphene, an advanced material, is extremely strong, efficiently conducts heat and electricity, and is made of carbon. Some scientists have developed a process to transform carbon nanotubes into graphene. They have also experimented on combining the two to make a stronger material.
Vezina said Canada's allies are also conducting research into graphene.
In addition, the South Korean government announced April 6 that it plans to produce and sell industrial products using graphene as early as 2017. It is looking at mass production of the material by 2020 and has established a plan that involves 45 private firms and research institutes.
"We expect to secure 85 key technologies related to graphene by 2020 through cooperation between the public and private sectors under the new plan," South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy stated in an April 6 news release.
While such materials potentially provide new ways to significantly improve armor, Vezina cautions that coming up with methods of protecting vehicles and soldiers is a continuing process. Threats constantly evolve, he added.
The sharing of technology among adversaries ensures that improvements in the development of improvised explosive devices and other weapons can quickly find their way into various conflict zones.
"Then it's a matter of imagination on how to use these devices and how to adapt quickly," Vezina explained. "It will always be a challenge to stay ahead. The adversaries will adjust."
David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.