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Making Boron Nitride Nanotubes In Bulk

Large-scale production of small-diameter nanostructures provides an opportunity to explore this material’s applications

by Bethany Halford
May 26, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 21

Credit: ACS Nano
A transmission electron micrograph of a boron nitride nanotube.
A transmission electron micrograph of a boron nitride nanotube.
Credit: ACS Nano
A transmission electron micrograph of a boron nitride nanotube.

Like their all-carbon cousins, boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) possess exceptional mechanical properties, thanks to similarities in geometry. In certain areas, BNNTs even outperform carbon nanotubes. For example, they have a higher thermal stability, making them an attractive additive for high-temperature composites. But researchers have struggled to come up with a way to produce enough of these novel nanotubes to truly make them useful for real-world applications. Now, a team led by Benoit Simard of Canada’s National Research Council has come up with an induction thermal plasma process capable of making 20 g of BNNTs per hour (ACS Nano 2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn501661p). The resultant nanotubes (shown) have few walls, excellent cylindrical geometry, and a small diameter of about 5 nm. Simard and colleagues propose that during the synthesis boron condenses into droplets that nucleate the growth of the tiny tubes. They also found that hydrogen plays a crucial catalytic role in nanotube formation. “The yields demonstrated by this plasma synthesis process mean that kilogram quantities of high-purity and highly crystalline BNNTs are now accessible for the first time,” the authors note.


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