Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > A greener way to grow carbon nanotubes

Graphic: Christine Daniloff
Graphic: Christine Daniloff

Abstract:
Study suggests new way for manufacturers to minimize environmental impact of carbon nanotube production

By Morgan Bettex, MIT News Office

A greener way to grow carbon nanotubes

Cambridge, MA | Posted on November 11th, 2010

Given their size, strength and electrical properties, carbon nanotubes — tiny, hollow cylinders made of carbon atoms — hold promise for a range of applications in electronics, medicine and other fields. Despite industrial development of nanotubes in recent years, however, very little is known about how they form or the environmental impacts of their manufacture.

It turns out that one process commonly used to produce carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, may release several hundred tons of chemicals, including greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollutants, into the air each year. In a paper published last week on the ACS Nano website, the researchers report that in experiments, removing one step in that process — a step that involves heating carbon-based gases and adding key reactive "ingredients" — reduced emissions of harmful by-products at least tenfold and, in some cases, by a factor of 100. It also cut the amount of energy used in the process by half.

"We were able to do all of this and still have good CNT growth," says Desiree Plata, who led the research between 2007 and 2009 as a doctoral student in MIT's joint program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Now a visiting assistant professor in MIT's Departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Plata collaborated on the paper with several MIT and University of Michigan researchers, including Philip Gschwend, Ford Professor of Engineering in CEE, and John Hart, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. The study is part of a long-term effort to change the approach to material development so that environmental chemists work with the young CNT industry to develop methods to prevent or limit undesirable environmental consequences.

In their study, Plata and her colleagues analyzed a common CNT manufacturing process known as catalytic chemical vapor deposition. In this method, manufacturers combine hydrogen with a "feedstock gas," such as methane, carbon monoxide or ethylene. They then heat the combination in a reactor that contains a metal catalyst like nickel or iron, which then forms CNTs. The problem is that once the CNTs form, unreacted compounds (up to 97 percent of the initial feedstock) are often released into the air.

Turning off the heat

In a custom-made laboratory-scale reactor, the researchers heated hydrogen and ethylene, which is commonly used in high-volume CNT manufacturing, and then delivered it to a metal catalyst. They found that more than 40 compounds formed, including greenhouse gases like methane and toxic air pollutants like benzene.

The researchers suspected that not all of those compounds were essential for growing CNTs, and they knew that heating the feedstock gas plays a critical role in creating the dangerous compounds. So they combined unheated ethylene and hydrogen with several of the 40 compounds, one by one, to see which combination of compounds led to the best growth. They observed that certain alkynes, or molecules that have at least two carbon atoms stuck together with three distinct bonds, produced the best growth, while other compounds that are undesirable by-products, such as methane and benzene, did not.

Plata and her colleagues accomplished their dramatic reduction in both harmful emissions and energy consumption by impinging room-temperature alkynes, with ethylene and hydrogen, directly onto the metal catalyst, without heat. They also learned that they could reduce the amount of ethylene and hydrogen used by about 20 and 40 percent, respectively, and still achieve the same rate and quality of CNT growth. Plata says that while the results of lab experiments are hard to generalize, in a market that is expected to reach several billion dollars within several years, these changes could translate into "significant cost savings" for manufacturers.

Industry reaction

Although it's too soon for manufacturers to adopt the method presented in the paper, David Lashmore, vice president and chief technology officer of Concord, N.H.-based Nanocomp Technologies, says the method is something his company is willing to try as it looks for ways to minimize the environmental effects of its production process. "This is of high interest to us and could have a broad impact on our process economics," he says.

Plata points out that the MIT study analyzed only one of several feedstock gases used to make CNTs, and that the same analysis needs to be done for the others. But for her own part, she is now focusing on how CNTs form, trying to determine the precise interaction of the metal catalyst and the hydrocarbons in this process. Knowing the catalyst's role could help researchers manipulate CNTs' formation atom by atom — much more precisely than they can now, she says.

The study was funded by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Arunas and Pam Chesonis Ignition Grant via the MIT Earth Systems Initiative and the MIT Martin Society of Fellows for Sustainability, the Nanomanufacturing Program of the National Science Foundation, Lockheed Martin Nanosystems and the University of Michigan Department of Mechanical Engineering and College of Engineering.

####

For more information, please click here

Copyright © MIT

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related Links

Nanocomp Technologies

Related News Press

News and information

Bringing the atomic world into full color: Researchers turn atomic force microscope measurements into color images October 19th, 2017

'Find the Lady' in the quantum world: International team of researchers presents method for quantum-mechanical swapping of positions October 18th, 2017

Long nanotubes make strong fibers: Rice University researchers advance characterization, purification of nanotube wires and films October 17th, 2017

Spinning strands hint at folding dynamics: Rice University lab uses magnetic beads to model microscopic proteins, polymers October 17th, 2017

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Bringing the atomic world into full color: Researchers turn atomic force microscope measurements into color images October 19th, 2017

Long nanotubes make strong fibers: Rice University researchers advance characterization, purification of nanotube wires and films October 17th, 2017

Spinning strands hint at folding dynamics: Rice University lab uses magnetic beads to model microscopic proteins, polymers October 17th, 2017

Rice U. study: Vibrating nanoparticles interact: Placing nanodisks in groups can change their vibrational frequencies October 16th, 2017

Possible Futures

Bringing the atomic world into full color: Researchers turn atomic force microscope measurements into color images October 19th, 2017

'Find the Lady' in the quantum world: International team of researchers presents method for quantum-mechanical swapping of positions October 18th, 2017

Long nanotubes make strong fibers: Rice University researchers advance characterization, purification of nanotube wires and films October 17th, 2017

Spinning strands hint at folding dynamics: Rice University lab uses magnetic beads to model microscopic proteins, polymers October 17th, 2017

Academic/Education

Two Scientists Receive Grants to Develop New Materials: Chad Mirkin and Monica Olvera de la Cruz recognized by Sherman Fairchild Foundation August 16th, 2017

Moving at the Speed of Light: University of Arizona selected for high-impact, industrial demonstration of new integrated photonic cryogenic datalink for focal plane arrays: Program is major milestone for AIM Photonics August 10th, 2017

Graduate Students from Across the Country Attend Hands-on NanoCamp: Prominent scientists Warren Oliver, Ph.D., and George Pharr, Ph.D., presented a weeklong NanoCamp for hand-picked graduate students across the United States July 26th, 2017

The Physics Department of Imperial College, London, uses the Quorum Q150T to deposit metals and ITO to make plasmonic sensors and electric contact pads July 13th, 2017

Nanotubes/Buckyballs/Fullerenes/Nanorods

Long nanotubes make strong fibers: Rice University researchers advance characterization, purification of nanotube wires and films October 17th, 2017

How to draw electricity from the bloodstream: A one-dimensional fluidic nanogenerator with a high power-conversion efficiency September 11th, 2017

Silk could improve sensitivity, flexibility of wearable body sensors August 20th, 2017

Regulation of two-dimensional nanomaterials: New driving force for lithium-ion batteries July 26th, 2017

Announcements

Bringing the atomic world into full color: Researchers turn atomic force microscope measurements into color images October 19th, 2017

Long nanotubes make strong fibers: Rice University researchers advance characterization, purification of nanotube wires and films October 17th, 2017

Spinning strands hint at folding dynamics: Rice University lab uses magnetic beads to model microscopic proteins, polymers October 17th, 2017

Rice U. study: Vibrating nanoparticles interact: Placing nanodisks in groups can change their vibrational frequencies October 16th, 2017

Environment

Single ‘solitons’ promising for optical technologies October 9th, 2017

Solar-to-fuel system recycles CO2 to make ethanol and ethylene: Berkeley Lab advance is first demonstration of efficient, light-powered production of fuel via artificial photosynthesis September 19th, 2017

High-tech electronics made from autumn leaves: New process converts biomass waste into useful electronic devices August 30th, 2017

Nanoparticles pollution rises 30 percent when flex-fuel cars switch from bio to fossil: Study carried out in São Paulo, home to the world's largest flex fuel urban fleet, shows increase of ultrafine particulate matter when ethanol prices rose and consumption fell August 28th, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project