Research USC and NIST research leads to low cost carbon nanotube fabrication

Published on August 27th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Cheap Substitute For Silicon Grows From Carbon Nanotube “Seeds”

August 27th, 2013 by  

While we’ve been busy touting graphene as the “miracle material of the new millennium,” there’s another advanced materials kid on the block called carbon nanotubes and they haven’t exactly been on the snooze either. A team of researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) has just announced that they’ve cracked the code for cooking up single-walled carbon nanotubes with precise atomic structures. If the process can be scaled up, carbon nanotubes could substitute for silicon to usher in a new era of smaller, faster, more energy efficient computers and other electronic devices.

Growing Carbon Nanotubes From Seeds

For those of you new to the topic, carbon nanotubes are cylinders of carbon atoms no more than one nanometer (one billionth of a meter) thick. As low cost, highly efficient semiconductors they have endless potential applications.

The obstacle has been to identify fabrication methods that enable the mass production of carbon nanotubes with a precise structure. Left to grow with the help of a catalyst, carbon nanotubes form random twists called chiralities, along with an annoying byproduct called plain old soot.

USC and NIST research leads to low cost carbon nanotube fabrication

Carbon nanotubes from seeds courtesy of USC/NIST.

The new finding builds on a collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which prefers a “cloning” analogy, but for now let’s go with USC’s preference for agricultural references and call this a method for growing carbon nanotubes from precisely engineered “seeds.”

Between the USC and NIST teams, the early research had progressed to the point of using DNA molecules as a kind of binder that forces carbon nanotubes to grow with one specific chirality, eliminating the need for a catalyst. That line of investigation stalled temporarily when it was found that the technique worked only on short pieces of nanotube.

Last year, the research regained momentum with the development of a workaround solution for growing longer strands without a catalyst:

Small segments of nanotubes of identical chirality, extracted using the DNA technique, were put in a high-temperature reaction chamber at USC with methane gas, which breaks down in the heat to smaller carbon molecules that attach themselves to the ends of the nanotubes, gradually building them up—and preserving their structural chirality.

A Recipe For Cooking Up Carbon Nanotubes

The new breakthrough steps things up a notch toward commercialization. In the latest announcement from USC, the team discovered how to define the atomic structure of carbon nanotubes.

The definition or “growth recipe” is based on the fact that every particular type of carbon nanotube expands and contracts at a particular frequency, which can be observed though a spectroscopic technique. That enabled researcher to demonstrate a precise match of atomic structure between the newly grown nanotubes.

The new findings also fostered an understanding of the conditions needed to grow the nanotubes at different speeds and lengths.

Before we move along let’s note for the record (because we usually do) that we taxpayers can give ourselves a big group hug for the overall research effort. Along with the nonprofit industry research consortium Semiconductor Research Corporation and The Center on Functional Engineered Nano Architectonics at UCLA, funding for the project came from the Office of Naval Research and an interesting little arm of the Department of Defense called the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Many Paths To Low Cost Carbon Nanotubes

Of course the NIST/USC collaboration isn’t the only carbon nanotube game in town. One particularly intriguing example comes from MIT, which is currently working on low cost carbon nanotube sensors that can be fabricated by a technique very similar to drawing on paper with a lead pencil.

Rice University has also been a hotbed of carbon nanotube cookery, the most recent development being a technique for “unzipping” carbon nanotubes to form ribbons of graphene.

Speaking of graphene, for those of you new to the topic graphene is an arrangement of carbon atoms with a hexagonal structure like that of carbon nanotubes, only arranged in a one atom thick sheet instead of a tube. Discovered in 2004, graphene has engendered thousands of research papers for its unique properties of strength and conductivity.

Regular readers of CleanTechnica first saw graphene dubbed the “miracle material of the new millennium” back in  June 2009 on this site. We’ve been following the research ever since with multiple writers contributing dozens of articles and we’re happy to report that PBS Newshour finally caught up to us just yesterday with a feature story on graphene, calling it (somewhat more lamely, we think) “the World’s New Wonder Material.”

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.”
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Very interesting concept about carbon nanotubes. Will share with or community on Google+. We have also added the author Tina Casey. Thank you Tina.

  • David

    The authors might want to look at an Issued Patent 8,057,777, which discusses controlling CNT Chirality though the radial breathing mode frequency. (Lashmore and Lombard)

  • JamesWimberley

    To complete the geometry lesson, buckyballs are hollow spheres whose surface is a hexagonal-cum-pentagonal grid of carbon atoms, like that which forms graphene as a sheet or nanotubes as a cylinder.They don´t seem to have as wide a range of applications though.

Back to Top ↑
  • Advertisements

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Cool Cleantech Events

    Low Voltage Electrification Event, April 25-27. Detroit, Michigan (US)
    Delve deep into the benefits and challenges associated with EV power supply.

    Offshore Wind Market Development USA, May 11-12, Boston, Massachusetts (US)
    Network and establish your business in one of North America’s largest energy industries.

    Energy Storage USA, June 15-16, San Diego, California (US)
    Only event in the United States focused exclusively on the commercialization of storage.

    More details are on: Cleantech Events.

  • Advertisement

  • CleanTechnica Electric Car Report

    Electric Cars Early Adopters First Followers
  • Tesla Model 3 Review by EVANNEX

    Tesla Model 3 Review from EVANNEX
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Video

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Pictures

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model X Review #1 (Video)

    Tesla Model X Review from new owners Zach Shahan
  • Tesla Model X Review #2 (Pictures)

    Tesla Model X Review from Kyle Field
  • Tesla Model S Long-Term Review

    Tesla Model S Long Term Review from Kyle Field
  • Nissan LEAF Long-Term Review

    Nissan LEAF Long Term Review from Cynthia Shahan
  • Interview with Michael Liebreich

    Interview with Michael Liebreich
  • Interview with Akon (Teslas & Solar)

    Interview with Akon Tesla Model S Tesla Model X Solar Power Africa
  • Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany

    Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
  • Interview with Gro Brundtland

    Gro Brundtland
  • Interview with President of Iceland

    President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
  • Interview with Nick Sampson

    Faraday Future VP Nick Sampson
  • Interview with Dipal Barua

    Dipal Barua 1st ZFEP WInner
  • Interview with Jonathon Porritt

    Jonathon Porritt
  • Interview with Clint Wilder

    Interview with Clint Wilder
  • Interviews with Solar Impulse Pilots

    Bertrand Piccard Andre Borschberg
  • Check out more CleanTechnica Videos.

  • Join The Solar Revolution!

    Edison-solar-energy solar-energy-spill-nice-day
  • Cost of Solar Panels

  • Search the IM Network