HOUSTON -- (Nov. 2, 2009) -- Rice University scientists today unveiled a method for the industrial-scale processing of pure carbon-nanotube fibers that could lead to revolutionary advances in materials science, power distribution and nanoelectronics. The result of a nine-year program, the method builds upon tried-and-true processes that chemical firms have used for decades to produce plastics. The research is available online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
"Plastics is a $300 billion U.S. industry because of the massive throughput that's possible with fluid processing," said Rice's Matteo Pasquali, a paper co-author and professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry. "The reason grocery stores use plastic bags instead of paper and the reason polyester shirts are cheaper than cotton is that polymers can be melted or dissolved and processed as fluids by the train-car load. Processing nanotubes as fluids opens up all of the fluid-processing technology that has been developed for polymers."
The report was co-authored by an 18-member team of scientists from Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Co-authors include Smalley Institute namesake Rick Smalley, the late Nobel laureate chemist who developed the first high-throughput method for producing high-quality carbon nanotubes, as well as Virginia Davis, a former doctoral student of Pasquali's and Smalley's who is now a professor at Auburn University, and Micah Green, a former postdoctoral researcher of Pasquali's who is now a professor at Texas Tech University.
The new process builds upon the 2003 Rice discovery of a way to dissolve large amounts of pure nanotubes in strong acidic solvents like sulfuric acid. The research team subsequently found that nanotubes in these solutions aligned themselves, like spaghetti in a package, to form liqu
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