Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are up to 100,000 times thinner than a human hair and as light as plastic. Despite this they have a higher tensile strength than steel, are harder than diamond and conduct electricity better than copper. These properties make CNTs a raw material with a very promising future. All over the world possible applications are being investigated, including use in solar cells, plastics, batteries, medical technology and the purification of drinking water.
With the increasing industrial production of CNTs now reaching the level of hundreds of tons per year, the quantity of these particles which could be released into the environment has also risen. Certain studies have raised the possibility that CNTs lodged in the lungs might cause similar health effects as do asbestos fibers. An interdisciplinary team of scientists from Empa and the Agroscope Reckenholz-Taenikon (ART) Research Station have now begun investigating the fundamentals of how CNTs behave when they are deposited in waterways and lakes.
Algae remain healthy but grow slower
In the course of the project, which is financed by the Swiss National Funds, researchers further developed a standard chemical method in order to measure the growth and photosynthetic activity of green algae exposed to CNTs. They discovered that even in the presence of high concentrations of CNTs the algae retain normal levels of photosynthesis, although growth rates are reduced. Also noticeable was that when CNTs are added to the algae suspension, its color darkens and the algae forms clumps with the nanotubes. Despite this there is no evidence that the nanotubes are absorbed by the plants.
The investigators came to the conclusion, therefore
|Contact: Fabienne Schwab|
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)