An automatic-control system has been devised for a process in which carbon nanotubes are produced in an arc between a catalyst-filled carbon anode and a graphite cathode. The control system includes a motor-driven screw that adjusts the distance between the electrodes. The system also includes a bridge circuit that puts out a voltage proportional to the difference between (1) the actual value of potential drop across the arc and (2) a reference value between 38 and 40 V (corresponding to a current of about 100 A) at which the yield of carbon nanotubes is maximized. Utilizing the fact that the potential drop across the arc increases with the interelectrode gap, the output of the bridge circuit is fed to a motor-control circuit that causes the motor to move the anode toward or away from the cathode if the actual potential drop is more or less, respectively, than the reference potential. Thus, the system regulates the interelectrode gap to maintain the optimum potential drop. The system also includes circuitry that records the potential drop across the arc and the relative position of the anode holder as function of time.

This work was done by Carl D. Scott of Johnson Space Center, Robert B. Pulumbarit of Lockheed Martin, and Joe Victor of Hernandez Engineering.

MSC-23134