Carbon Nanotubes: The Material of the Future?


Nanomaterials have been said to be one of the most significant new materials since plastic. Nanotechnology, which refers to building things at the nanometer scale, is expected to touch almost every aspect of our lives.

How small is a nanometer? A nanometer is a billionth of a meter (0.000000001 or 10-9 in scientific notation), barely the size of 10 hydrogen atoms in a row. To put that in perspective, a molecule of DNA is only 2.5 nanometers wide. A human hair strand is around 50,000 nanometers wide. Matter at this nanoscale often behaves differently, providing high strength, suppleness, and excellent conductivity.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are the most common building blocks of nanotechnology. They are structures consisting of graphene cylinders of carbon atoms closed at either end with caps containing pentagonal rings. This hollow “chicken wire” cylinder structure itself is very strong and has an amazing array of properties.

Nanotube compounds (NTCs) make use of the high aspect ratio of CNTs and thus are capable of delivering conductive properties at very low loadings. An extremely uniform distribution of CNTs within the plastic reduces the hot spots found within typical carbon fiber-filled compounds. The excellent melt flow properties of NTCs enable thin-wall molds to fill at lower temperatures. NTCs are not subject to static build-up and are a weight-saving alternative to other heavier materials. They also have a low particulate generation, making them ideal for applications requiring strict cleanliness.

The carbon nanotube is a small wonder providing many important benefits:

  • Precise uniform surface resistivity
  • High aspect ratio at low loadings
  • High purity and low particle generation