Enhanced purification of carbon nanotubes by microwave and chlorine cleaning procedures

Amid all the fancy equipment found in a typical nanomaterials lab, one of the most useful may turn out to be the humble microwave oven.

A standard kitchen microwave proved effective as part of a two-step process invented at Rice and Swansea universities to clean carbon nanotubes.

Basic nanotubes are good for many things, like forming into microelectronic components or electrically conductive fibers and composites; for more sensitive uses like drug delivery and solar panels, they need to be as pristine as possible.

Nanotubes form from metal catalysts in the presence of heated gas, but residues of those catalysts (usually iron) sometimes remain stuck on and inside the tubes. The catalyst remnants can be difficult to remove by physical or chemical means because the same carbon-laden gas used to make the tubes lets carbon atoms form encapsulating layers around the remaining iron, reducing the ability to remove it during purification.

In the new process, treating the tubes in open air in a microwave burns off the amorphous carbon. The nanotubes can then be treated with high-temperature chlorine to eliminate almost all of the extraneous particles.

ACS Advances – Enhanced purification of carbon nanotubes by microwave and chlorine cleaning procedures


A new two-step purification method of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) involving a microwave treatment followed by a gas-phase chlorination process is reported. The significant advantage of this method over conventional cleaning carbon nanotubes procedures is that under microwave treatment in air, the carbon shells that encase the residual metal catalyst particles are removed and the metallic iron is exposed and subsequently oxidized making it assessable for chemical removal. The products from microwave and chlorine treatment have been characterized by TG/DTA, SEM, TEM, EDX, XPS, and Raman spectroscopy. The oxidation state of the iron residue is observed to change from Fe(0) to Fe(II)/Fe(III) after microwave treatment and atmospheric exposure. The effects of the duration and number of microwave exposures has been investigated. This rapid and effective microwave step favours the subsequent chlorination treatment enabling a more effective cleaning procedure to take place, yielding higher purity single- and multi-walled CNTs.

SOURCES – ACS Advances, Rice University