Science Current Events | Science News |

Nanotube 'sponge' has potential in oil spill cleanup

May 11, 2012

A carbon nanotube sponge that can soak up oil in water with unparalleled efficiency has been developed with help from computational simulations performed at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Carbon nanotubes, which consist of atom-thick sheets of carbon rolled into cylinders, have captured scientific attention in recent decades because of their high strength, potential high conductivity and light weight. But producing nanotubes in bulk for specialized applications was often limited by difficulties in controlling the growth process as well as dispersing and sorting the produced nanotubes.

ORNL's Bobby Sumpter was part of a multi-institutional research team that set out to grow large clumps of nanotubes by selectively substituting boron atoms into the otherwise pure carbon lattice. Sumpter and Vincent Meunier, now of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, conducted simulations on supercomputers, including Jaguar at ORNL's Leadership Computing Facility, to understand how the addition of boron would affect the carbon nanotube structure.

"Any time you put a different atom inside the hexagonal carbon lattice, which is a chicken wire-like network, you disrupt that network because those atoms don't necessarily want to be part of the chicken wire structure," Sumpter said. "Boron has a different number of valence electrons, which results in curvature changes that trigger a different type of growth."

Simulations and lab experiments showed that the addition of boron atoms encouraged the formation of so-called "elbow" junctions that help the nanotubes grow into a 3-D network. The team's results are published in Nature Scientific Reports.

"Instead of a forest of straight tubes, you create an interconnected, woven sponge-like material," Sumpter said. "Because it is interconnected, it becomes three-dimensionally strong, instead of only one-dimensionally strong along the tube axis."

Further experiments showed the team's material, which is visible to the human eye, is extremely efficient at absorbing oil in contaminated seawater because it attracts oil and repels water.

"It loves carbon because it is primarily carbon," Sumpter said. "Depending on the density of oil to water content and the density of the sponge network, it will absorb up to 100 times its weight in oil."

The material's mechanical flexibility, magnetic properties, and strength lend it additional appeal as a potential technology to aid in oil spill cleanup, Sumpter says.

"You can reuse the material over and over again because it's so robust," he said. "Burning it does not substantially decrease its ability to absorb oil, and squeezing it like a sponge doesn't damage it either."

The material's magnetic properties, caused by the team's use of an iron catalyst during the nanotube growth process, means it can be easily controlled or removed with a magnet in an oil cleanup scenario. This ability is an improvement over existing substances used in oil removal, which are often left behind after cleanup and can degrade the environment.

The experimental team has submitted a patent application on the technology through Rice University. The research is published as "Covalently bonded three-dimensional carbon nanotube solids via boron induced nanojunctions," and is available online here:

The research team included researchers from ORNL, Rice University; Universidade de Vigo, Spain; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Instituto de Microelectronica de Madrid, Spain; Air Force Office of Scientific Research Laboratory; Arizona State University; Universite Catholique de Louvain, Belgium; The Pennsylvania State University; and Shinshu University, Japan.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and by the DOE Office of Science through ORNL's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) and the laboratory's Leadership Computing Facility.

CNMS is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers supported by the DOE Office of Science, premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE's Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Related Carbon Nanotube Current Events and Carbon Nanotube News Articles

Nano-coating makes coaxial cables lighter
Common coaxial cables could be made 50 percent lighter with a new nanotube-based outer conductor developed by Rice University scientists.

New process enables easier isolation of carbon nanotubes
Manufacture of longer, thinner, and uncontaminated carbon nanotubes, and successfully isolating them, have been ongoing challenges for researchers. A newly developed method has opened up new possibilities in carbon nanotube development.

Researchers develop nanoscale probes for ssDNA sustainability under UV radiation
DNA, which stores genetic information in the majority of organisms on Earth, is not easily destroyed. It readily absorbs ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but finds ways to recover.

Emerging technologies help advance the understanding, detection and control of epilepsy
A smartphone-induced EEG waveform and an intelligent algorithm for seizure detection are among the emerging technologies to be unveiled at the American Epilepsy Society's (AES) 69th Annual Meeting.

Making green fuels, no fossils required
Using solar or wind power to produce carbon-based fuels, which are commonly called fossil fuels, might seem like a self-defeating approach to making a greener world.

Realizing carbon nanotube integrated circuits
Individual transistors made from carbon nanotubes are faster and more energy efficient than those made from other materials. Going from a single transistor to an integrated circuit full of transistors, however, is a giant leap.

UT Dallas nanotechnology research leads to super-elastic conducting fibers
An international research team based at The University of Texas at Dallas has made electrically conducting fibers that can be reversibly stretched to over 14 times their initial length and whose electrical conductivity increases 200-fold when stretched.

Basel physicists develop efficient method of signal transmission from nanocomponents
Physicists have developed an innovative method that could enable the efficient use of nanocomponents in electronic circuits.

Random nanowire configurations increase conductivity over heavily ordered configurations
Researchers at Lehigh University have identified for the first time that a performance gain in the electrical conductivity of random metal nanowire networks can be achieved by slightly restricting nanowire orientation.

Making robots more human
Most people are naturally adept at reading facial expressions -- from smiling and frowning to brow-furrowing and eye-rolling -- to tell what others are feeling. Now scientists have developed ultra-sensitive, wearable sensors that can do the same thing.
More Carbon Nanotube Current Events and Carbon Nanotube News Articles

Carbon Nanotube Electronics (Integrated Circuits and Systems)

Carbon Nanotube Electronics (Integrated Circuits and Systems)
by Ali Javey (Editor), Jing Kong (Editor)

This book provides a complete overview of the field of carbon nanotube electronics. It covers materials and physical properties, synthesis and fabrication processes, devices and circuits, modeling, and finally novel applications of nanotube-based electronics. The book introduces fundamental device physics and circuit concepts of 1-D electronics. At the same time it provides specific examples of the state-of-the-art nanotube devices.

Carbon Nanotube and Graphene Device Physics

Carbon Nanotube and Graphene Device Physics
by H.-S. Philip Wong (Author), Deji Akinwande (Author)

Explaining the properties and performance of practical nanotube devices and related applications, this is the first introductory textbook on the subject. All the fundamental concepts are introduced, so that readers without an advanced scientific background can follow all the major ideas and results. Additional topics covered include nanotube transistors and interconnects, and the basic physics of graphene. Problem sets at the end of every chapter allow readers to test their knowledge of the material covered and gain a greater understanding of the analytical skill sets developed in the text. This is an ideal textbook for senior undergraduate and graduate students taking courses in semiconductor device physics and nanoelectronics. It is also a perfect self-study guide for professional...

Carbon Nanotubes and Related Structures: New Materials for the Twenty-first Century

Carbon Nanotubes and Related Structures: New Materials for the Twenty-first Century
by Peter J. F. Harris (Author)

Carbon nanotubes are molecular-scale carbon fibers with structures related to those of the fullerenes. Since their discovery in 1991, they have captured the imagination of physicists, chemists and materials scientists alike. This book covers all the most important areas of nanotube research, as well as discussing related structures such as carbon nanoparticles and "inorganic fullerenes." It is the first single-author book on the subject and will be of interest to chemists, physicists, materials scientists, and engineers working on carbon materials and fullerenes in both academia and industry.

Physical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes

Physical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes
by Riichiro Saito (Author), R. Saito (Editor), M. S. Dresselhaus (Editor)

This text is intended for researchers who want to perform theoretical analysis of carbon nanotubes. It can be used by graduate students in a solid state physics to learn how to investigate the structure of carbon nanotubes, its electronic and vibrational properties.

Carbon Nanotube-Polymer Composites: Manufacture, Properties, and Applications

Carbon Nanotube-Polymer Composites: Manufacture, Properties, and Applications
by Brian P. Grady (Author)

The accessible compendium of polymers in carbon nanotubes (CNTs) Carbon nanotubes (CNTs)—extremely thin tubes only a few nanometers in diameter but able to attain lengths thousands of times greater—are prime candidates for use in the development of polymer composite materials. Bringing together thousands of disparate research works, Carbon Nanotube-Polymer Composites: Manufacture, Properties, and Applications covers CNT-polymers from synthesis to potential applications, presenting the basic science and engineering of this dynamic and complex area in an accessible, readable way. Designed to be of use to polymer scientists, engineers, chemists, physicists, and materials scientists, the book covers carbon nanotube fundamentals to help polymer experts understand CNTs, and polymer physics...

Carbon Nanotube Enhanced Aerospace Composite Materials: A New Generation of Multifunctional Hybrid Structural Composites (Solid Mechanics and Its Applications)

Carbon Nanotube Enhanced Aerospace Composite Materials: A New Generation of Multifunctional Hybrid Structural Composites (Solid Mechanics and Its Applications)
by A. Paipetis (Editor), V. Kostopoulos (Editor)

The well documented increase in the use of high performance composites as structural materials in aerospace components is continuously raising the demands in terms of dynamic performance, structural integrity, reliable life monitoring systems and adaptive actuating abilities. Current technologies address the above issues separately; material property tailoring and custom design practices aim to the enhancement of dynamic and damage tolerance characteristics, whereas life monitoring and actuation is performed with embedded sensors that may be detrimental to the structural integrity of the component. This publication explores the unique properties of carbon nanotubes (CNT) as an additive in the matrix of Fibre Reinforced Plastics (FRP), for producing structural composites with improved...

Carbon Nanotubes: Theoretical Concepts and Research Strategies for Engineers

Carbon Nanotubes: Theoretical Concepts and Research Strategies for Engineers
by A. K. Haghi (Author), Sabu Thomas (Author)

This book presents the diversity of recent advances in carbon nanotubes from a broad perspective that will be useful for scientists as well as for graduate students and engineers. Presenting leading-edge research in this dynamic field, this volume is an introduction to the physical concepts needed for investigating carbon nanotubes and other one-dimensional solid-state systems. Written for a wide scientific readership, each chapter consists of an instructive approach to the topic and sustainable ideas for solutions. Carbon nanotubes, with their extraordinary mechanical and unique electronic properties, have garnered much attention in recent years. With a broad range of potential applications, including nanoelectronics, composites, chemical sensors, biosensors, microscopy,...

Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Composites: CNT Polymer Science and Technology (Pdl Handbook)

Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Composites: CNT Polymer Science and Technology (Pdl Handbook)
by Marcio Loos (Author)

Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Composites introduces a wide audience of engineers, scientists and product designers to this important and rapidly expanding class of high performance composites. Dr Loos provides readers with the scientific fundamentals of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), CNT composites and nanotechnology in a way which will enable them to understand the performance, capability and potential of the materials under discussion. He also investigates how CNT reinforcement can be used to enhance the mechanical, electrical and thermal properties of polymer composites. Production methods, processing technologies and applications are fully examined, with reference to relevant patents. Finally, health and safety issues related to the use of CNTs are investigated. Dr. Loos compares the...

Graphene, Carbon Nanotubes, and Nanostructures: Techniques and Applications (Devices, Circuits, and Systems)

Graphene, Carbon Nanotubes, and Nanostructures: Techniques and Applications (Devices, Circuits, and Systems)
by James E. Morris (Editor), Krzysztof Iniewski (Editor)

Graphene, Carbon Nanotubes, and Nanostructures: Techniques and Applications offers a comprehensive review of groundbreaking research in nanofabrication technology and explores myriad applications that this technology has enabled. The book examines the historical evolution and emerging trends of nanofabrication and supplies an analytical understanding of some of the most important underlying nanofabrication technologies, with an emphasis on graphene, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), and nanowires. Featuring contributions by experts from academia and industry around the world, this book presents cutting-edge nanofabrication research in a wide range of areas. Topics include: CNT electrodynamics and signal propagation models Electronic structure calculations of a graphene–hexagonal boron nitride...

Carbon Nanotubes and Nanosensors: Vibration, Buckling and Balistic Impact (Iste)

Carbon Nanotubes and Nanosensors: Vibration, Buckling and Balistic Impact (Iste)
by Isaac Elishakoff (Author)

The main properties that make carbon nanotubes (CNTs) a promising technology for many future applications are: extremely high strength, low mass density, linear elastic behavior, almost perfect geometrical structure, and nanometer scale structure. Also, CNTs can conduct electricity better than copper and transmit heat better than diamonds. Therefore, they are bound to find a wide, and possibly revolutionary use in all fields of engineering.
The interest in CNTs and their potential use in a wide range of commercial applications; such as nanoelectronics, quantum wire interconnects, field emission devices, composites, chemical sensors, biosensors, detectors, etc.; have rapidly increased in the last two decades. However, the performance of any CNT-based nanostructure is dependent on the...

© 2016