"The protective catalyst technique provides a breakthrough in terms of usability and industrial applicability of carbon nanomaterials."Ravi Silva, University of Surrey

Researchers have developed a revolutionary method for intricately growing and protecting some of the world's most exciting nanomaterials – graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNT).

When curved and rolled into cylinders, thin graphene layers form CNT structures. These rolled sheets of carbon can be a thousandth of the diameter of a human hair and possess extraordinary properties such as extreme electrical conduction, greater strength than high tensile steel and the ability to catalyze chemical reactions. Although widely regarded as the key to developing future batteries and supercapacitor technologies, CNTs are plagued with environmental 'poisoning', which causes the materials to lose their catalytic properties.

In a paper published in Carbon, researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK detail their new method for covering the CNTs with a protective layer that is configured to allow carbon diffusion and thus can be used to protect the catalyst from environmental contamination. The technique allows the catalyst to be transported, stored or accurately calibrated for future use.

"The protective catalyst technique provides a breakthrough in terms of usability and industrial applicability of carbon nanomaterials," said Ravi Silva, director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey and an author of the paper. "For example, the poisoning of the catalyst by environmental contamination such as oxidation and unwanted etching of the thin catalyst film during reactive ion etching or wet etching can now be prevented."

"The age-old problem of poor attachment of the nano-carbon materials to the substrate has now been solved using this unique technique," said lead author Muhammad Ahmad from the University of Surrey. "By fine tuning the thickness of the protective layer, accurate control of the carbon supply to the catalyst is achieved to grow selected numbers of graphene layers or precise CNT films.

"We hope that our research will free fellow scientists to unlock the incredible potential of carbon nanomaterials and I would not be surprised to see advances in areas such as sensor, battery and supercapacitor technologies."

This story is adapted from material from the University of Surrey, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.