What material would scientists choose if they were to build a 22,000 mile space elevator that extends beyond the skies? The answer is Carbon Nanotubes- a nanomaterial 300 times tougher than steel and as flexible as plastic. These wonder materials have been making once theoretical situations a possibility with their high elasticity, incredible strength and superior conductivity. Owing to the unique structure of their chemical bonds they are currently among the strongest materials known to man. The versatile features of carbon nanotubes have enabled potential applications across a number of industries including electronics, construction, biomedicine and healthcare.
Electronics manufacturing is set to receive a major boost from the conductivity of carbon nanotubes. Microchips that use silicon transistors could be replaced with the equally conductive nanotubes making them a fraction of their size. Similarly, copper interconnects that are unable to work efficiently when packed too tightly can be substituted with nanotubes. Such applications are allowing manufacturers to develop smaller and more efficient electrical components. Displays on flat screens and LEDs can be improved with the integration of carbon nanotubes due to their excellent field emission capabilities. Ink from carbon nanotubes can be used in tablets and e-readers as it does not require the use of a backlight. This could potentially reduce the power consumption needs of electronics. Their small size coupled with their ability to withstand high currents means that, subject to production at scale, they could soon replace silicon in all devices, marking a seismic shift in the manufacture of electronics.
The surface area and adsorption abilities of carbon nanotubes make them efficient membranes, capable of separating contaminants. Manufacturing and industrial processes that require the use of clean water can benefit from these properties. In the future this technology could be extended to commercial water purification systems, potentially bringing clean drinking water to a large segment of people that currently lack access to it.
Carbon nanotubes could also have a significant role to play in healthcare. Their carbon composition makes them organic and biocompatible. With the addition of precision control, these properties mean that carbon nanotubes can be used to improve drug delivery systems. They could also be used to improve diagnosis systems, owing to their unique interaction with foreign bodies.
However, despite their diverse potential, the mass adoption of carbon nanotubes is hindered by a significant barrier - cost. In order to alleviate this problem, innovative manufacturing processes are being developed. For instance, researchers have proposed a method of printing nanotube transistors on flexible plastic sheets using commercial printers. Another method involves the use of carbon vapours derived from the incineration of waste plastic bags. If such ideas are deemed viable, the proliferation of carbon nanotubes is not only inevitable, but expected to be of significant benefit across industries and verticals. What are your thoughts on the impact of carbon nanotubes? Please leave your comments in the section below.