Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have tackled the problem of getting carbon nanotubes and graphene to exhibit their extraordinary thermal, electrical and mechanical properties as three-dimensional nanostructures. As a result of their efforts, they have walked away with an improved one-step fabrication method for producing these nanostructures and carbon fibers that could lead to highly efficient energy storage systems.
In research published in the journal Science Advances, the Case Western researchers employed an anodic oxidation of aluminum (AAO) template to directly grow hollow fibers made of carbon nanotubes in a simple one-step process without the need for metal catalysts.
The researchers believe that the flexible hollow fibers could improve energy storage devices and could even be woven into textiles as power sources for wearable electronics. Exploiting the flexibility of carbon nanomaterials by using them as a power source in wearable electronics has been the focus of a fair amount of research.
“The porous 3-D carbon structure provides a huge surface/interface area for charge storage,” explained Liming Dai, a professor at Case Western and one of the lead researchers, told IEEE Spectrum via e-mail. “Furthermore, the presence of holes facilitates the electrolyte diffusion while the seamless nodal junction allows fast electron transport, and hence the fast charging and discharging rates.”
In the research, Dai and his colleagues fashioned wire capacitors from the 3-D carbon nanotubes; these energy storage devices could potentially be woven into different fabrics.
“We will try to make textiles from the fibers, but we also don't mind others to work along this line as long as our publications are properly cited,” said Dai.
In future research, Dai and his colleagues plan to develop 3-D multilayered structures.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.