Tech Briefs

Carbon Nanotube Microarrays Grown on Nanoflake Substrates

This process creates materials comprised predominantly of single-walled carbon nanotubes.

This innovation consists of a new composition of matter where single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) are grown in aligned arrays from nanostructured flakes that are coated in Fe catalyst. This method of growth of aligned SWNTs, which can yield well over 400 percent SWNT mass per unit substrate mass, exceeds current yields for entangled SWNT growth. In addition, processing can be performed with minimal wet etching treatments, leaving aligned SWNTs with superior properties over those that exist in entangled mats.

The alignment of the nanotubes is similar to that achieved in vertically aligned nanotubes, which are called “carpets.” Because these flakes are grown in a state where they are airborne in a reactor, these flakes, after growing SWNTs, are termed “flying carpets.”

These flakes are created in a roll-toroll evaporator system, where three subsequent evaporations are performed on a 100-ft (≈30-m) roll of Mylar. The first layer is composed of a water-soluble “release layer,” which can be a material such as NaCl. After depositing NaCl, the second layer involves 40 nm of supporting layer material — either Al2O3 or MgO. The thickness of the layer can be tuned to synthesize flakes that are larger or smaller than those obtained with a 40- nm deposition.

Finally, the third layer consists of a thin Fe catalyst layer with a thickness of 0.5 nm. The thickness of this layer ultimately determines the diameter of SWNT growth, and a layer that is too thick will result in the growth of multiwalled carbon nanotubes instead of single- wall nanotubes. However, between a thickness of 0.5 nm to 1 nm, singlewalled carbon nanotubes are known to be the primary constituent. After this three-layer deposition process, the Mylar is rolled through a bath of water, which allows catalyst-coated flakes to detach from the Mylar. The flakes are then collected and dried. The method described here for making such flakes is analogous to that which is used to make birefringent ink that is coated on U.S. currency.

After deposition, the growth is carried out in a hot-filament chemical vapor deposition apparatus. A tungsten hot filament placed in the flow of H2 at a temperature greater than 1,600 °C creates atomic hydrogen, which serves to reduce the Fe catalyst into a metallic state. The catalyst can now precipitate SWNTs in the presence of growth gases. The gasses used for the experiments reported are C2H2, H2O, and H2, at rates of 2, 2, and 400 standard cubic centimeters per minute (sccm), respectively.

In order to retain the flakes, a cage is constructed by spot welding stainless steel or copper mesh to form an enclosed area, in which the flakes are placed prior to growth. This allows growth gases and atomic hydrogen to reach the flakes, but does not allow the flakes, which rapidly nucleate SWNTs, to escape from the cage.

This work was done by Howard K. Schmidt, Robert H. Hauge, Cary Pint, and Sean Pheasant of Rice University for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the JSC Innovation Partnerships Office at (281) 483-3809.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

   Rice University
   Office of Technology Transfer MS 705
   P.O. Box 1892
   Houston, TX 77251-1892
   Phone No.: (713) 348-6188
   E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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