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'Unzipped' Carbon Nanotubes Could Help Energize Fuel Cells And Batteries, Stanford Scientists Say

Published: May 28, 2012.
By Stanford University

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes riddled with defects and impurities on the outside could replace some of the expensive platinum catalysts used in fuel cells and metal-air batteries, according to scientists at Stanford University. Among the most promising, low-cost alternatives to platinum is the carbon nanotube – a rolled-up sheet of pure carbon, called graphene, that's one-atom thick and more than 10,000 times narrower a human hair. The scientists showed that shredding the outer wall, while leaving the inner walls intact, enhances catalytic activity in nanotubes, yet does not interfere with their ability to conduct electricity. "But defects are actually important to promote the formation of catalytic sites and to render the nanotube very active for catalytic reactions. Microscopic analysis revealed that the treatment caused the outer nanotube to partially unzip and form nanosized graphene pieces that clung to the inner nanotube, which remained mostly intact. "

Dai noted that the iron impurities, which enhanced catalytic activity, actually came from metal seeds that were used to make the nanotubes and were not intentionally added by the scientists.

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