Jiaxing Huang of Northwestern University has come up with a new technique to prepare disperse carbon nanotubes at unusually higher concentrations with the use of a simple, already mass produced, and inexpensive solvent called cresol. Interestingly, Huang found no need to use harsh chemical reactions or additives for modifying the nanotubes. Surprisingly, Huang also discovered that with increase in the concentrations of nanotubes, the material transitioned to a thick paste from a dilute dispersion, then to a free-standing gel. Lastly, it transitioned to a kneadable dough that could be molded and shaped.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the research on May 14, 2018.

Cresol does Not Deteriorate Surface Functions of Carbon Nanotubes

High-quality nanotube thin films could be difficult to produce if manufacturers do not a get a good dispersion. In solvents, it could be more than a challenge to disperse aggregated tubes. Previously, researchers used additives to coat carbon nanotubes as a solution to bypass this issue. However, they altered surface structures of the nanotubes or left behind residues, thus blunting their required properties.

In contrast to this solution, Huang and his team used a regular chemical once found application in household cleaners. It did not deteriorate surface functions of carbon nanotubes. Following separation of the entangled nanotubes, researchers could simply heat the chemical until evaporation or wash it off to get rid of it. New forms of the material discovered using this new technique to prepare the nanotubes in larger concentrations could found usage in 3D printing as a conductive ink.

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