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Tailored supply chain development for exploiting the full potential of carbon nanotubes in composites

Nanocomposites cannot yet fulfil all the expectations set in them. Collaboration among academics and industry in the education of young scientists will help to bring lab-scale concepts to commercial fruition quickly while ensuring a leading position for the EU in the field.
Tailored supply chain development for exploiting the full potential of carbon nanotubes in composites
In 2009 an EU-funded consortium of academic and industrial partners launched the CONTACT project, which targeted carbon nanotube (CNT) composites. The partners’ expertise spanned the entire value-added chain from CNT synthesis to integration in commercial products.

Eighteen researchers were recruited by the consortium to secure future exploitation of the full potential of CNTs. The researchers benefited from mentoring by world leaders in CNT synthesis, processing, characterisation and simulation. In addition to conducting research, the scientists participated in conferences and courses covering topics from leadership for women to presentation skills.

The structured and high-quality training programme focused on overcoming some of the major limitations facing CNT technology. These included the modification of CNT surface properties, CNT dispersion in thermoset and thermoplastic polymers, and the reliability of analysis and characterisation methods. CONTACT made major advances in all areas.

Scientists improved the yield of CNT synthesis and upscaled the process while inline reaction monitoring facilitated accurate characterisation of the growth process. They were thus able to analyse and optimise the effects of various dopants and catalysts on structure and yield. Dispersion of the newly developed CNTs in polymers was improved through a variety of techniques leading to fabrication of flexible films with enhanced transparency and electrical conductivity.

Researchers studied composites with only CNTs or CNTs in combination with other functional fillers. Better understanding of behaviours during various processing techniques led to optimised use of twin screw compounding and injection moulding and improved properties of composites.

Finally, scientists exploited a combination of modelling and experimentation to interpret the properties of the produced composites. This will lead to knowledge-based design of new materials for areas as diverse as construction, energy and electronics.

Full exploitation of CNT-nanocomposites can only be achieved through collaboration between academics and industry with a strong emphasis on the training of new scientists. CONTACT has made a major contribution by building on these necessary foundations.

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Carbon nanotubes, nanocomposites, CNT synthesis, surface properties, CNT dispersion, characterization
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