(176c) Carbon Nanotubes in Real World Applications – A Perspective on Translational Challenges and Industry Progress

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Itâ??s been 25 years since the discovery of the carbon nanotube (CNT). CNTs were lauded as a breakthrough materials, with potential to revolutionize virtually every industry from energy to health. Early research indicated that many of the challenges of working with these materials were related to scaling of high purity, high perfection materials and directing their organization into controlled morphologies. Over the past decade, there has been a decline in carbon nanotube suppliers and decrease in press releases, accompanied by a shift in attention to newer materials such as graphene and other two-dimensional materials. Yet, many companies have been quietly incorporating CNTs into applications.
This talk will focus on the state of the art for CNTs in applications, including their use in functional coatings, energy storage, and light-weighting. Our groupâ??s efforts at Battelle are in translational science â?? using new science discoveries to solve a broad range of industrial problems. The dominant theme in this type of research is how to control structures at interfaces to enable functionality, durability, and stability, while minding aspects of scalability and manufacturability. The strategic fit of a new material into an existing device is often a major hurdle to be managed.
A case study from our group will be used to highlight translation of a CNT coating into a vehicle application -- a low-power, lightweight ice protection system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Icing is a serious problem of UAVs, due to their flight characteristics, limited power budget, and restrictions on added weight and size. Our approach is to integrate an electrically-powered heater coating between the standard coating system and selectively power to keep flight surfaces clean. Due to their high conductivity and ability to be spray-applied, CNTs are an excellent candidate for creating heaters that can be retrofitted onto existing aircraft. Successful deployment of these systems required balancing several other requirements, primarily related to power, weight, and lifetime. Through fundamental study of conduction mechanisms in CNT networks, their environmental response, and fatigue behavior, approaches for creating stable, functional systems were identified. We will discuss our path to managing power budget, stability, and durability to create a system that has demonstrated successful performance in a simulated field environment.
The key lessons learned from this case study will be summarized and generalized for others going through the product development process. We expect to see growth in the number of applications of CNTs, as the utility of CNTs are demonstrated in real-world environments.