Carbon Nanotubes 101 – Applications cont'd...

Thermal Materials

The record-setting anisotropic thermal conductivity of CNTs is enabling many applications where heat needs to move from one place to another. Such an application is found in electronics, particularly heat sinks for chips used in advanced computing, where uncooled chips now routinely reach over 100oC. The technology for creating aligned structures and ribbons of CNTs [D.Walters, et al., Chem. Phys. Lett. 338, 14 (2001)] is a step toward realizing incredibly efficient heat conduits. In addition, composites with CNTs have been shown to dramatically increase their bulk thermal conductivity, even at very small loadings.

Structural Composites

The superior properties of CNTs are not limited to electrical and thermal conductivities, but also include mechanical properties, such as stiffness, toughness, and strength. These properties lead to a wealth of applications exploiting them, including advanced composites requiring high values of one or more of these properties.

Fibers and Fabrics

Fibers spun of pure CNTs have recently been demonstrated and are undergoing rapid development, along with CNT composite fibers. Such super-strong fibers will have many applications including body and vehicle armor, transmission line cables, woven fabrics and textiles.

Catalyst Support

CNTs intrinsically have an enormously high surface area; in fact, for single walled nanotubes every atom is not just on one surface - each atom is on two surfaces, the inside and the outside of the nanotube! Combined with the ability to attach essentially any chemical species to their sidewalls this provides an opportunity for unique catalyst supports. Their electrical conductivity may also be exploited in the search for new catalysts and catalytic behavior.

CNT Ceramics

A ceramic material reinforced with carbon nanotubes has been made by materials scientists at UC Davis. The new material is far tougher than conventional ceramics, conducts electricity and can both conduct heat and act as a thermal barrier, depending on the orientation of the nanotubes. Ceramic materials are very hard and resistant to heat and chemical attack, making them useful for applications such as coating turbine blades, but they are also very brittle.
The researchers mixed powdered alumina (aluminum oxide) with 5 to 10 percent carbon nanotubes and a further 5 percent finely milled niobium. The researchers treated the mixture with an electrical pulse in a process called spark-plasma sintering. This process consolidates ceramic powders more quickly and at lower temperatures than conventional processes.
The new material has up to five times the fracture toughness -- resistance to cracking under stress -- of conventional alumina. The material shows electrical conductivity seven times that of previous ceramics made with nanotubes. It also has interesting
thermal properties, conducting heat in one direction, along the alignment of the nanotubes, but reflecting heat at right angles to the nanotubes, making it an attractive material for thermal barrier coatings.

Biomedical Applications

The exploration of CNTs in biomedical applications is just underway, but has significant potential. Since a large part of the human body consists of carbon, it is generally thought of as a very biocompatible material. Cells have been shown to grow on CNTs, so they appear to have no toxic effect. The cells also do not adhere to the CNTs, potentially giving rise to applications such as coatings for prosthetics and surgical implants. The ability to functionalize the sidewalls of CNTs also leads to biomedical applications such as vascular stents, and neuron growth and regeneration. It has also been shown that a single strand of DNA can be bonded to a nanotube, which can then be successfully inserted into a cell; this has potential applications in gene therapy.

Air, Water and Gas Filtration

Many researchers and corporations have already developed CNT based air and water filtration devices. It has been reported that these filters can not only block the smallest particles but also kill most bacteria. This is another area where CNTs have already been commercialized and products are on the market now. Someday CNTs may be used to filter other liquids such as fuels and lubricants as well.
A lot of research is being done in the development of CNT based air and gas filtration. Filtration has been shown to be another area where it is cost effective to use CNTs already. The research Iíve seen suggests that 1 gram of MWNTs can be dispersed onto 1 sq ft of filter media. Manufacturers can get their cost down to 35 cents per gram of purified MWNTs when purchasing ton quantities.

Other Applications

Some commercial products on the market today utilizing CNTs include stain resistant textiles, CNT reinforced tennis rackets and baseball bats. Companies like Kraft foods are heavily funding cnt based plastic packaging. Food will stay fresh longer if the packaging is less permeable to atmosphere. Coors Brewing company has developed new plastic beer bottles that stay cold for longer periods of time. Samsung already has CNT based flat panel displays on the market. A lot of companies are looking forward to being able to produce transparent conductive coatings and phase out ITO coatings. Samsung uses align SWNTs in the transparent conductive layer of their display manufacturing process.
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