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Breakthrough in Industrial-Scale Nanotube Processing

Rice University pioneers method for processing carbon nanotubes in bulk fluids

Information Courtesy of Rice University News & Media

Rice University scientists recently unveiled a method for the industrial-scale processing of pure carbon-nanotube fibers that could lead to revolutionary advances in materials science, power distribution and nanoelectronics. The result of a nine-year program, the method builds upon current processes that chemical firms have used for decades to produce plastics.

The new process builds upon the 2003 Rice University discovery of a way to dissolve large amounts of pure nanotubes in strong acidic solvents like sulfuric acid. The research team subsequently found that nanotubes in these solutions aligned themselves, like spaghetti in a package, to form liquid crystals that could be spun into monofilament fibers about the size of a human hair. By comparing and contrasting the behavior of nanotubes in acids with the literature on polymers and rodlike colloids, the team developed both the theoretical and practical tools that chemical firms will need to process nanotubes in bulk.

"One good thing about the process that we have right now is that if anybody could give us one gram of pure metallic nanotubes, we could give them one gram of fiber within a few days," notes Matteo Pasquali, paper co-author and professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry at Rice University.

The report was co-authored by an 18-member team of scientists from Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, the USA-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the Welch Foundation.

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