Developing carbon nanotubes on a large scale is usually challenging, but new research suggests that it might actually be easier than what scientists first conceived.
Common Problems With Creating Carbon Nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes are only about as thin as an atom, but this material is tougher than Kevlar. The problem is that it is very difficult to mass-produce them. If a producer is not careful, the carbon nanotubes will twist and clump together, which prevents this material from working properly.
The individual nanotubes are typically shorter, which means there is very little room for error. Longer nanotubes would need to be created, but that could come with many obstacles.
The longer carbon nanotubes could easily get tangled and reduced into a think paste, which would weaken the material. In the past, researchers have tried to correct this malfunction by using chemicals to coat the nanotubes. Although the chemicals prevented the nanotubes from turning into a thick paste, this also sacrificed the material's powerful potency.
The Chemical Breakthrough Behind Carbon Nanotubes
Reseachers at Northwestern University discovered an odd way to create carbon nanotubes without these problems. They applied a common chemical called cresol, which was once found in household cleaning products, to the carbon nanotubes.
Their findings were published on May 14 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Because of their exceptional mechanical, thermal and electrical properties, carbon nanotubes have attracted a lot of attention for a number of applications," said professor Jiaxing Huang of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. "But after decades of research and development, some of the excitement has faded."
The researchers discovered that the cresol preserves the carbon nanotube's functionality while seperating the tubes. This makes the material behave like polymers. The chemical can also be removed by washing it off.
"It is really exciting to see cresol-based solvents make once hard-to-process carbon nanotubes as usable as common plastics," said Jiaxing.
Another Team Introduces A Carbon Nanotube Solution
There is also a group of researchers from Beijing's Tsinghua University that released a study that solves the same problem with nanotubes. They synthesized the tubes through chemical vapor deposition.
The findings were published on May 14 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
With the reactants behind the nanotube held within a reaction chamber, the researchers were able to grow the nanotubes within the same direction as they flowed. Although there were some obstacles to this, researchers found a solution by narrowing the chamber. The result was that the nanotubes bundled together and were still very strong.