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Another Report Laments the Status of Carbon Nanotube Development

With CNT capacity shrinking due to lack of demand, a nanotechnology industry group offers a way forward

2 min read
Illustration: Alamy
Illustration: Alamy

In the last half-a-decade we have witnessed once-beloved carbon nanotubes (CNTs) slowly being eclipsed by graphene as the “wonder material” of the nanomaterial universe.

This changing of the guard has occurred primarily within the research community, where the amount of papers being published about graphene seems to be steadily increasing. But in terms of commercial development, CNTs still have a leg up on graphene, finding increasing use in creating light but strong composites. Nonetheless, the commercial prospects for CNTs have been taking hits recently, with some producers scaling down capacity because of lack of demand.

With this as the backdrop, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), famous for its estimate back in 2001 that the market for nanotechnology will be worth $1 trillion by 2015, has released a report based on a meeting held last September. The report, called “Realizing the Promise of Carbon Nanotubes: Challenges, Opportunities, and the Pathway to Commercialization,” offers recommendations on the commercialization path for CNTs.

None of the recommendations should come as a surprise to those who have followed the commercial travails of CNTs over the years. While one of the recommendations of the report seemingly incongruously urges the scaling up of CNT production, it would appear the report is recommending a particular kind of increase. The aim of the recommendation is to support a scaled-up manufacturing that would impart the same kind of functionality seen in individual CNTs for CNT-based bulk materials.

Also, for those who measure all nanomaterial research by the degree to which it addresses environmental concerns, the report ticks that box by highlighting the need for life-cycle assessments as products based on CNTs reach commercialization.

Over the years, there has been a regular stream of research that has improved upon CNT production, whether it’s for electronics applications or for advanced composites.

Despite these advances, it doesn’t seem that anyone has been able to translate them into real-world products. That’s why the report contains what has come to be a fixture in any review on the status of nanomaterials: a lamentation of the innovation ecosystem.

It makes perfect sense that the report offers this recommendation: “Use of public-private partnerships or other collaboration vehicles to leverage resources and expertise to solve these technical challenges and accelerate commercialization.”

While urging the creation of a more effective innovation infrastructure is incumbent upon any report dealing with nanotechnology,  it might be time for one of these groups to not only identify the need for it but also to outline what that infrastructure would look like and actually begin buidling it. Until then, we’re likely to see more reports such as these, which tell those who are likely to be paying attention all the things they already know.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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