A study conducted by scientists at Rice University in collaboration with scientists at the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University has shown that single-walled carbon nanotubes can be grown extensively on old newspapers, which is a cheap, environmentally-friendly material.
Carbon nanotubes are small molecules with unbelievable physical properties that could be leveraged in a wide range of areas such as flexible electronics, conductive films for touchscreen displays, antennas for 5G networks, and fabrics that produce energy.
A new study, reported in the MDPI Journal C, describes the research experiments performed to create carbon nanotubes that are capable of solving some of the issues related to their production at a large scale, for example:
- The challenges in developing the process, because only single-surface growth processes have been available earlier
- The higher cost of synthesizing a surface appropriate for chemical growth
The scientists found that the large surface area of newspapers offered an unbelievable but perfect medium for the chemical growth of carbon nanotubes.
Newspapers have the benefit of being used in a roll-to-roll process in a stacked form making it an ideal candidate as a low-cost stackable 2D surface to grow carbon nanotubes.
Bruce Brinson, Study Lead Researcher, Rice University
Yet, all types of newspapers are not equally good. Only newspapers created with sizing made from kaolin (or china clay) led to the growth of carbon nanotubes.
Many substances including talc, calcium carbonate, and titanium dioxide can be used in sizing in papers which act as a filler to help with their levels of absorption and wear. However it was our observation that kaolin sizing, and not calcium carbonate sizing, showed us how the growth catalyst, which in our case was iron, is affected by the chemical nature of the substrate.
Varun Shenoy Gangoli, Study Co-author, Rice University
According to Andrew Barron, ESRI Director, who is also a professor at Rice University in the United States, “While there have been previous research that shows that graphene, carbon nanotubes and carbon dots can be been synthesised on a variety of materials, such as food waste, vegetation waste, animal, bird or insect waste and chemically grown on natural materials, to date, this research has been limited.”
With our new research, we have found a continuous flow system that dramatically reduces the cost of both substrate and post synthesis process which could impact on the future mass manufacture of single walled carbon nanotubes.
Andrew Barron, ESRI Director and Professor, Rice University, USA