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Waste plastic bags used to create carbon nanotubes

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September 26, 2013

Plastic bags like these may one day be a common source of carbon nanotubes

Plastic bags like these may one day be a common source of carbon nanotubes

Discarded plastic bags are if nothing else, certainly one of the most visible forms of litter out there. While it's possible to recycle some of them into other plastic products, scientists at Australia's University of Adelaide have found another use for them – they can be used in the production of high-value carbon nanotubes.

Researchers in the university's School of Chemical Engineering had already been growing nanotubes in pores on alumina membranes. Each pore had layers of carbon deposited in it, until enough layers had built up to form a tube. Ethanol was being used as the carbon source.

PhD student Tariq Altalhi, however, realized that any carbon source could be used. In an experiment, pieces of non-biodegradable plastic bags were vaporized in a furnace. The resulting carbon proved more than adequate for the task. No toxic catalysts or solvents are required for the process.

Carbon nanotubes have many applications, finding use in items such as solar cells, batteries, stretchable electronics and most recently, the brains of a computer.

Source: The University of Adelaide

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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