British Team Devises Method for Separating Carbon Nanotubes Cheaply

january 23 2012

When single walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are made, they come out in both metallic and semiconducting material form. Now, due to the efforts of a British team of physicists, as they describe in their paper in ACS Nano, a new method has been devised that allows SWCNTs to be separated cheaply enough to allow for bulk manufacturing.

The team in Britain from London’s Imperial College, led by Milo Shaffer, has figured out a way to do the job cheaply, due to researchers from another lab at University College, discovering that Buckminster fullerenes dissolve in ammonia. To develop the new process, teams from both labs worked together.

In the new process first the nanotubes are dissolved in a sodium and ammonia solution to purify and pull them apart, creating what they call a “nanotubide” solution; afterwards, the ammonia is removed. The result is a salt and nanotubide dry powder. The team then adds dimethylformamide to the powder which causes a portion of the salt-laden nanotubide to dissolve. By using just the right concentration in the original solution, the team has found that they can retrieve material that is mostly metallic SWCNT from the dissolved salt. And that, in all its simplicity, is pretty much all there is to it.

Besides allowing for SWCNTs to be made cheaply, the new process also eliminate the need for using a centrifuge which was a part of the process used in earlier methods and sometimes caused damage to the final product. Also, because this new method appears to be ready to go as is, the team has already licensed it to Linde, an industrial gas company.

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