New research found that cresols, common solvents, can be used to produce carbon nanotubes at a plastic-like industrial scale.

Since their discovery in the 1990s, carbon nanotubes (CNT) have fueled the imagination of researchers and industrialists alike thanks to their incredible electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties.

The theoretical applications of CNTs go from earth-based practical solutions like flexible electronics to uses as wild as space elevators.

Methods to produce CNTs have been developed, and their potential has been shown in labs time and time again. However, creating a cheap and effective form of mass-production has proven to be very tough.

So far, mass-production methods can yield tons of carbon nanotubes, but only in the form of powders.

CNTs in these powders tend to entangle and aggregate, making them hard to disperse and process.

A new breakthrough in carbon nanotubes technology might be about to change that and rekindle the flames of CNT research.

Mass Producing Carbon Nanotubes Using a Household Cleaner

Material scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois found a way to mass-produce carbon nanotubes using a common chemical used in household cleaners.

This new process uses cresols to significantly increase the concentrations of dispersed carbon nanotubes. It requires no additives or harsh chemical modification processes.

Cresols are cheap everyday solvents used as precursors that enter in the production of many materials like plastics, insecticides, pesticides, and dyes.

According to researchers, cresols can be simply washed off or evaporated to remove them from CNTs, which maintain their surfaces intact, thus keeping their amazing properties.

The process allows the production of a malleable CNT-based paste that can be modeled into almost any shape like children’s Play-Doh.

An extract from the study, found in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, explains the process:

“As the concentration of nanotubes increases, a continuous transition of four states can be observed, including dilute dispersion, thick paste, free-standing gel, and eventually a kneadable, playdough-like material. As demonstrated with a few proofs of concept, cresols make powders of agglomerated carbon nanotubes immediately usable by a broad array of material-processing techniques to create desirable structures and form factors and make their polymer composites,” 

What products do you think this new breakthrough could be used for?

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