Gel yields nanotube plastic

July 16/23, 2003

Carbon nanotubes are stronger than steel by weight and they conduct electricity.

They're not easy to work with, however. The rolled-up sheets of carbon atoms can be as small as one nanometer across, or the span of 10 hydrogen atoms, and they have a tendency to form a tangled mass, like overcooked spaghetti.

Researchers from Japan Science and Technology Corp. (JST), Kyoto University in Japan, and the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have found a way to distribute nanotubes evenly throughout a gel to form an electrically versatile material.

The relatively simple method involves grinding nanotubes and mixing them with ammonium ion salts, which are liquid at room temperature. The resulting gel contains evenly spread nanotubes rather than the usual tangled bundles, and can be used to form capacitors, batteries and fuel cells, according to the researchers.

The gel can be printed using an inkjet printer, and ionic liquid can also be polymerized, or hardened into plastic. This opens the way to making cables, transistors and actuators from electrically conductive, high-strength plastic.

The material could be used in practical applications in two to five years, according to the researchers. The work appeared in the June 23, 2003 issue of Science.

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