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CNI and Rice University Advance Carbon Nanotechnology

  • Wednesday, 11th October 2000
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

The development of single wall carbon nanotubes (Buckytubes) has moved a major step closer to commercialization – from electronics to medicine – Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc. (CNI) and Rice University announced. Based in Houston, CNI was founded earlier this year by Dr. Richard E. Smalley, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the fullerene technology on which carbon nanotubes are based, and Dr. Bob G. Gower, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lyondell Chemical Company. CNI disclosed today that it has signed a letter of intent with Rice University granting CNI an exclusive license for a broad array of Buckytube-related technology. This technology was developed over the past several years under the direction of Dr. Smalley, who is director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice. “With the formation of CNI, we are seeding a new industry based on carbon,” said Dr. Smalley. “Carbon is the most versatile of all elements. It is the very basis for life. Now we have a unique new form of carbon that has the potential to propel the 21st century in some fundamentally new directions. We are looking at a whole new field of chemistry with spectacular properties that can unlock a new future for a wide variety of industries.” The most promising applications for the products to be marketed by CNI include electromagnetic shielding for cellular telephones and laptop computers, flat-panel displays for televisions and computers, radar absorption for stealth aircraft, nano-electronics including memories in new generations of computers and high strength, lightweight nanostructure composites. “One of the most exciting things about this venture is that Buckytubes can revolutionize polymers, electronics, medicine and many other industries and CNI will be the first commercial source,” said Dr. Gower. “We have a new carbon structure and a straight-forward process that is capable of making that structure in substantial quantities that will be economically feasible for many applications. Our immediate goal is to get significant quantities of Buckytubes to those people who can further evolve the technology and help develop commercial applications that will capitalize on the unique properties of single wall carbon nanotubes,” he added. Already, CNI is in talks with several companies regarding partnership arrangements for commercial applications of the technology. Buckytubes have extraordinary properties. They are a highly efficient conductor of electricity, probably the ultimate conductor at the nanoscale level, have excellent thermal conductivity, are the size of DNA and approach molecular perfection. In addition, they are probably the strongest substance that will ever exist — with a tensile strength 100 times greater than steel, but only one-sixth the weight of steel. “The intrinsic conductivity of this new molecular species has the power to revolutionize the manufacture of many products and open the door to the nano-world for a broad spectrum of industries. Much has been written about the promise of nanotechnology. Our goal at CNI is to provide the means to transform this potential into products that will revolutionize the way we live and work,” Dr. Smalley said. This development is an outgrowth of the work for which Dr. Smalley received the l996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. That work identified a new form of carbon known as fullerenes. One identified structure, a carbon-60 molecule, had the shape of a ball and is known as Buckyballs. Another structure, a carbon-70 molecule, was more elongated and was the initial step toward producing Buckytubes, molecularly perfect single wall carbon nanotubes. In 1998, Dr. Smalley and his group made a breakthrough advancement, with the discovery of a gas phase catalytic reaction to produce Buckytubes of very high purity. This proprietary HiPco(TM) process provides CNI with a method to make Buckytubes from a basic industrial gas, carbon monoxide, under temperature and pressure conditions common in today’s industrial plants, producing a product that is essentially free of by-products. Dr. Malcolm Gillis, President of Rice University, said “Rice University is immensely pleased that an agreement with CNI has been signed to enable the commercialization of this important technology. Rice’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology is on the leading edge of discoveries that could form the basis for a nano-technology industrial corridor in Texas. This agreement represents a highly significant step in bringing the benefits of these discoveries to the marketplace.” Dr. Smalley and Dr. Gower formed CNI in early 2000, along with Drs. Ken Smith and Daniel T. Colbert, associates of Dr. Smalley at Rice University. In exchange for the license of this technology package, Rice University will have a minority position in the new company. CNI’s mission is to be the preeminent player in carbon nanotechnolgies in the world.

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