Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are allotropes of carbon with a cylindrical nanostructure. Nanotubes have been constructed with length-to-diameter ratio of up to 132,000,000:1, significantly larger than for any other material. These cylindrical carbon molecules have unusual properties, which are valuable for nanotechnology, electronics, optics and other fields of materials science and technology. In particular, owing to their extraordinary thermal conductivity and mechanical and electrical properties, carbon nanotubes find applications as additives to various structural materials. For instance, nanotubes form a tiny portion of the material(s) in some (primarily carbon fiber) baseball bats, golf clubs, car parts or damascus steel
Nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family. Their name is derived from their long, hollow structure with the walls formed by one-atom-thick sheets of carbon, called graphene. These sheets are rolled at specific and discrete (“chiral”) angles, and the combination of the rolling angle and radius decides the nanotube properties; for example, whether the individual nanotube shell is a metal or semiconductor. Nanotubes are categorized as single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) and multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs). Individual nanotubes naturally align themselves into “ropes” held together by van der Waals forces, more specifically, pi-stacking.
Applied quantum chemistry, specifically, orbital hybridization best describes chemical bonding in nanotubes. The chemical bonding of nanotubes is composed entirely of sp2 bonds, similar to those of graphite. These bonds, which are stronger than the sp3 bonds found in alkanes and diamond, provide nanotubes with their unique strength.
Most single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) have a diameter of close to 1 nanometer, with a tube length that can be many millions of times longer. The structure of a SWNT can be conceptualized by wrapping a one-atom-thick layer of graphite called graphene into a seamless cylinder. The way the graphene sheet is wrapped is represented by a pair of indices (n,m). The integers n and m denote the number of unit vectors along two directions in the honeycomb crystal lattice of graphene. If m = 0, the nanotubes are called zigzag nanotubes, and if n = m, the nanotubes are called armchair nanotubes. Otherwise, they are called chiral. The diameter of an ideal nanotube can be calculated from its (n,m) indices as follows
where a = 0.246 nm.
SWNTs are an important variety of carbon nanotube because most of their properties change significantly with the (n,m) values, and this dependence is non-monotonic (see Kataura plot). In particular, their band gap can vary from zero to about 2 eV and their electrical conductivity can show metallic or semiconducting behavior. Single-walled nanotubes are likely candidates for miniaturizing electronics. The most basic building block of these systems is the electric wire, and SWNTs with diameters of an order of a nanometer can be excellent conductors. One useful application of SWNTs is in the development of the first intermolecular field-effect transistors (FET). The first intermolecular logic gate using SWCNT FETs was made in 2001. A logic gate requires both a p-FET and an n-FET. Because SWNTs are p-FETs when exposed to oxygen and n-FETs otherwise, it is possible to protect half of an SWNT from oxygen exposure, while exposing the other half to oxygen. This results in a single SWNT that acts as a not logic gate with both p and n-type FETs within the same molecule.
Single-walled nanotubes are dropping precipitously in price, from around $1500 per gram as of 2000 to retail prices of around $50 per gram of as-produced 40–60% by weight SWNTs as of March 2010.
SWNTs have been viewed as too expensive for widespread application but are forecast to make a large impact in electronics applications by 2020 according to The Global Market for Carbon Nanotubes report.
Multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs) consist of multiple rolled layers (concentric tubes) of graphene. There are two models that can be used to describe the structures of multi-walled nanotubes. In the Russian Doll model, sheets of graphite are arranged in concentric cylinders, e.g., a (0,8) single-walled nanotube (SWNT) within a larger (0,17) single-walled nanotube. In theParchment model, a single sheet of graphite is rolled in around itself, resembling a scroll of parchment or a rolled newspaper. The interlayer distance in multi-walled nanotubes is close to the distance between graphene layers in graphite, approximately 3.4 Å. The Russian Doll structure is observed more commonly. Its individual shells can be described as SWNTs, which can be metallic or semiconducting. Because of statistical probability and restrictions on the relative diameters of the individual tubes, one of the shells, and thus the whole MWNT, is usually a zero-gap metal.
Double-walled carbon nanotubes (DWNTs) form a special class of nanotubes because their morphology and properties are similar to those of SWNTs but their resistance to chemicals is significantly improved. This is especially important when functionalization is required (this means grafting of chemical functions at the surface of the nanotubes) to add new properties to the CNT. In the case of SWNTs, covalent functionalization will break some C=C double bonds, leaving “holes” in the structure on the nanotube and, thus, modifying both its mechanical and electrical properties. In the case of DWNTs, only the outer wall is modified. DWNT synthesis on the gram-scale was first proposed in 2003 by the CCVD technique, from the selective reduction of oxide solutions in methane and hydrogen.
The telescopic motion ability of inner shells and their unique mechanical properties will permit the use of multi-walled nanotubes as main movable arms in coming nanomechanical devices. Retraction force that occurs to telescopic motion caused by the Lennard-Jones interactionbetween shells and its value is about 1.5 nN.