Until now, silicon has been the main material used in microchips for its ease to extract and efficiency. However, more recent research suggests that material such as carbon graphene which is used for carbon nanotubes, can outperform silicon and indicate the future of electronics becoming of the most significant products of fullerene research. In this sense, it is no wonder that in the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris on November 30th, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that new technologies for producing carbon nanotubes will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Russia by roughly 160 to 180 million tons by 2030.
What are carbon nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are seen as a revolutionary material. In their essence, they are an allotrope of carbon, consisting of a complicate arrangement of carbon graphitic layers of atoms wrapped in microscopic cylindrical tubes, redefining the meaning of “reinforcements”. United, they form a “nanotube forest” that can be used in a tough surface, bearing the strength and permeability of fiberglass and carbon fiber, as well as sharing great flexibility to stretch. Carbon nanotubes are not found in nature but rather have to be synthesized artificially and can be woven into a thread like material. It is remarkable how they feature only a few nanometers in diameter –with a structure 10,000 times smaller than a human hair- yet up to a millimeter long, carbon nanotubes are excellent conductor of electricity bearing thermal conductivity.
To realize the promise of carbon nanotubes, certain challenges have to be overcome in terms of the technical specifications of applications fabricated with these materials. According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a U.S. Government research and development (R&D) initiative (2014) for example, modeling and simulation experiments indicate that there are limited modeling capabilities for simulating CNT properties in bulk form. Further, with regards to synthesis and scaling, these material structures show poor yield, slow production rate, variation in quality and lack real time process control. Another challenge relates to the limited structural enhancements achieved using bulk CNTs or CNT based composites. Finally, the evidence suggests limited impact of bulk CNTs in data and power distribution systems and in electrically conductive composites (NNI, 2014).
Possible uses/applications of carbon nanotubes
As they size and time make carbon nanotubes possibly miracle answer to computer industry’s need to make silicon chips ever smaller, both specialized and large scale applications of carbon nanotubes are increasing. Structural engineers are fascinated by the novel qualities of carbon nanotubes such as their superb tensile strength (Hyer, 2011). This could prove extremely beneficial in architecture from facades to foundations. For example, the material can enhance structural reinforcement, particularly for the replacement of steel rebar as they are incredibly light and strong. In addition, many engineering challenges, such as creating long-span bridges and lightweight vehicles, can be solved or minimized with the use of CNTs (Hyer, 2011). However other applications of these cylindrical carbon molecules could be on a much smaller scale and include nanotechnology, electronics, optics and other fields of materials science. For example, in the field of electronics researchers are exploring and discover many potential applications such as manufacturing computers or supplying lightweight batteries, direct electrons to illuminate pixels, resulting in lightweight, millimeter thick “nanoemissive” display panel, developing printable electronic devices using nanotube “ink” in inkjet printers and transparent, flexible electronic devices using arrays of nanotubes.
One key challenge in practical applications of carbon nanotubes has been to make the smallest possible transistors or larger transistors with many nanotubes for use in flexible mobile phones and for integration in textiles. The most recent research in the field of carbon nanotubes has been released by IBM researchers who claimed to have figured out a way to bond a specific type of metal to a carbon nanotube through atoms. This succeeds into creating an incredibly small contact point needed to move electrons through the carbon nanotube without missing out on the performance of the chip. This sort of breakthrough innovation can set the future scene of replacing silicon transistors with carbon nanotubes to be closer together at 3 nanometers which has been a challenge in potential implementation of carbon nanotubes.
Other significant research advances includes a new kind of conducting fiber created by researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas. Researchers managed to use carbon nanotubes to develop this type of fiber for artificial muscles and capacitors that maximize the amount of energy storage when stretched. Elsewhere, researchers at Stanford University have succeeded to create integrated circuits using carbon nanotubes. The method involves removing metallic nanotubes and use only semiconducting nanotubes, as well as an algorithm to deal with misaligned nanotubes. Other research at Stanford and MIT investigates the potential to create carbon nanotube based ultra-capacitors for use instead of batteries in cars. FastCAP Systems of Boston, is a company that heads towards such an attempt by using carbon nanotube to create ultra-capacitors to succeed long life spans, durability, and recharge times and power levels beyond the traditional batteries and other capacitors. The previous, as they claim with no lithium and without the risk of thermal explosions.
Where are we heading with carbon nanotubes?
Whilst we cannot be certain of what the next technological breakthrough will be until it happens, scientists believe that carbon nanotubes can become the building blocks of innovation and information revolution with a multitude of applications once we overcome different difficulties associated with their use. Therefore we should wait and see what the future holds.
Hyer, A. (2011) Microchips and Nanotubes: Using Carbon Nanotubes in Electronics. Angles 2011, Exemplary Writing from Introductory Writing Subjects at MIT Retrieved from: https://mitangles.wordpress.com/hyer/.
National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) (2014) Realizing the Promise of Carbon Nanotubes Challenges , Opportunities, and the Pathway to Commercialization. Technical Interchange Proceedings. September 15, 2014.