NetComposites
3M

Carbon Nanotube Commercial Manufacturing Breakthrough

22 April 2004

The UK’s first commercial manufacturing process for high-purity single-wall carbon nanotubes has been commissioned by the performance chemicals company, Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd.

Since their discovery in 1991, carbon nanotubes have promised the development of a wide range of applications and novel products, but commercial research and development into these applications has been constrained by the lack of a reliable manufacturing process.

The availability of commercially produced carbon nanotubes of a consistent quality and at an accessible price is expected to unlock the potential for a wide range of industrial applications including ultra-strong materials (lightweight plastics that are 100 times stronger than steel), conductive composites and new electrical and electronic devices.

An ongoing collaboration between Cambridge University and chemical innovators Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd. has resolved the technical issues in scaling-up existing laboratory production techniques into a commercial process.

The facility at Swan’s UK site went online this month (April, 2004) to produce commercial quantities of high-purity single-wall nanotubes by a chemical vapour deposition method.

Tom Swan, Chairman of Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd. said: “This is a very important step towards the development of a wide range of fascinating new products from lighter, fuel-efficient planes to conductive plastics that are stronger than metal. Carbon nanotubes are an exciting new raw material and I hope that today’s announcement will assist scientists and engineers around the world to harness their true potential.”

Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd have devised a scalable manufacturing process that produces high purity single-wall carbon nanotubes in greater quantities than is currently possible in the laboratory. Working with the Department of Materials Science and the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge University, Swans have proven a reliable production technique and a fully operational plant has been commissioned at their Consett site, in North East England. The plant uses a chemical vapour deposition (CVD) process and the carbon nanomaterial products are being marketed under the Swan brand name of ELICARB.