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Published on June 5th, 2018 | By: Faye Oney


Making cheaper, small-diameter carbon nanotubes from carbon dioxide

Published on June 5th, 2018 | By: Faye Oney

[Image above] Credit: Vanderbilt University, YouTube



It’s a known fact that carbon dioxide is one of planet Earth’s biggest nemeses.


COexists in the Earth’s atmosphere, but it is needed for the lifecycle of plants. It is also a byproduct of metabolism in humans. And contrary to popular belief, a majority of COemissions comes from natural sources such as oceans, volcanic activity, and animal and plant respiration.


Though we cannot control nature, we can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprint.

Scientists are currently exploring ways to recycle CO2 and one Canadian company is already doing it.


And now, researchers at Vanderbilt University are actually making something useful out of CO2—small-diameter carbon nanotubes.


Led by assistant professor of mechanical engineering Cary Pint, the team demonstrated that they could make carbon nanotubes (CNTs) out of carbon dioxide pulled from the air. But what’s significant is that the researchers were able to make them a lot cheaper than current methods.


“The cheapest carbon nanotubes on the market cost around $100-200 per kilogram,” interdisciplinary material science Ph.D. student and team member Anna Douglas says in a Vanderbilt University news release. “Our research advance demonstrates a pathway to synthesize carbon nanotubes better in quality than these materials with lower cost and using carbon dioxide captured from the air.”


Pint and his team developed small-diameter CNTs on a stainless steel surface using electrochemical synthesis from ambient CO2, according to the paper’s abstract. Initially, it wasn’t an easy process and the researchers encountered an obstacle: Ostwald ripening—a process in which nanoparticles grow larger in size, enlarging CNT diameters, which makes them less useful, according to the release. The researchers eventually solved this by fine-tuning the electrochemical parameters.


Credit: Vanderbilt University


“One of the most exciting things about what we’ve done is use electrochemistry to pull apart carbon dioxide into elemental constituents of carbon and oxygen and stitch together, with nanometer precision, those carbon atoms into new forms of matter,” Pint says in the release. “That opens the door to being able to generate really valuable products with carbon nanotubes.”


The success of their process led Pint and Douglas to start a company, SkyNano Technologies, with the goal of scaling the technology for manufacturing.


“What we’ve learned is the science that opens the door to now build some of the most valuable materials in our world, such as diamonds and single-walled carbon nanotubes, from carbon dioxide that we capture from air through our process,” Pint says.


“This science that we’ve developed and the ability to produce this material cost-efficiently is a really exciting step forward.”


The paper, published in Applied Materials & Interfaces, is “Toward Small-Diameter Carbon Nanotubes Synthesized from Captured Carbon Dioxide: Critical Role of Catalyst Coarsening” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.8b02834).


Watch the video below to learn more.





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2 Responses to Making cheaper, small-diameter carbon nanotubes from carbon dioxide

  1. Keith Humfeld says:

    This is amazing, this is wonderful, this is necessary.

    The article probably ought to mention the existing company that installs hardware on smokestacks on concrete plants (around 1000 ppm CO2) that turns a vast majority of the carbon into carbon nanotubes and largely returns the oxygen to help power the plant. If my memory serves me correctly those are also SWNTs and the process is electrochemical in a salt bath. I don’t know how the quality of those SWNTs compare to those produced in the new work from Vanderbilt.

    One of the best things about this technology, from an environmental viewpoint, is that the carbon atoms are relegated to a very stable state of matter; they are removed from the carbon cycle. Without pretending that we have economical needs for this much mass of CNTs, what would the cost be to use this technology (in many instances in parallel) to remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we generate today, including transportation and environmentally responsible storage? How can we get that cost down? Is there a less expensive way to produce the Al2O3 catalyst if we’re not particular about CNT diameter?

    • Faye Oney says:

      Hello Keith, thank you for your comments and insights. Those are great questions. I always have my eye out for articles about research that reuses or recycles CO2 into other viable products.

      Thanks again for your input!

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