Scientists at Rice University have developed a new method for producing carbon nanotubes in bulk fluids. It could lead to revolutionary advances in nanoelectronics, materials science and power distribution.
Rice’s nanotube research has been sponsored in part by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force. Due to their strength, light weight, and electrical conductivity, carbon nanotubes have a practically unlimited potential for sustainable civilian products. Lightweight nanomaterials could boost the gas mileage in aircrafts and vehicles, generate hydrogen fuel if are used in artificial photosynthesis, increase the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries and make more flexible and thinner solar cells.
Rice’s method is based on conventional bulk fluid industry processes, methodically adapted over a nine-year period. 2003 is the year when the scientists discovered that pure nanotubes can be dissolved in a strong acidic solvent to form liquid crystals that line up like a package of spaghetti, which can be spun into fibers. Then, in the following years the researchers have examined the behavior of nanotubes in different acids, until the team finally settled on chlorsulfonic acid as the key.
Thanks to this discovery (a commercially viable fluid-based production method) Rice has brought the world one step closer to a carbon nanotube future that could be even more sustainable and pervasive than plastic. Also, the research is available online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.