Houston-led research team granted $4.1M for carbon synthesis project, calls for collaboration
A Rice University-led team of scientists has been awarded a $4.1 million grant to optimize a synthesis process that could make carbon materials sustainable and affordable on a large scale.
Known as carbon nanotube (CNT) synthesis, the process has the ability to create hollow cylindrical nanoscale structures made from carbon atoms that are strong, lightweight and carry heat and electricity well. CNT synthesis evolved across multiple countries around the same time, according to Rice. But to scale up the process in a way that could create alternatives to materials dependent on heavy industry, Matteo Pasquali, the team's leader and the A.J. Hartsook Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, says collaboration will be required.
“We have to apply a collaborative mindset to solve this problem,” Pasquali says in a statement. “We believe that by bringing together a dedicated interdisciplinary community, this project will lead to improvements in reactor efficiency and help identify further gaps in instrumentation and modeling.”
The grant seeks to achieve that. The funds come from both Rice’s Carbon Hub, which contributed $2.2 million to the team, and The Kavli Foundation, which granted $1.9 million in the form of a Kavli Exploration Award in Nanoscience for Sustainability.
The Kavli Foundation supports research in astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics. Winners of its Kavli Prize, which recognizes scientific breakthroughs, often go on to win the Nobel Prize.
“We are proud to partner with Rice University to support this important high-risk, high-reward research,” says Amy Bernard, director of life sciences at The Kavli Foundation, says in a statement.
Pasquali is the director and one of the creators of Rice's Carbon Hub, a collaborative group of corporations, researchers, universities and nonprofits focused on decarbonizing the economy. He says the grant will help the team develop tools to shed light on CNT formation and reaction zones.
“We are at a critical juncture in carbon research, and it is really important that we shed light on the physical and chemical processes that drive CNT synthesis,” Pasquali says. “Currently, reactors are black boxes, which prevents us from ramping up synthesis efficiency. We need to better understand the forces at play in CNT formation by developing new tools to shed light on the reaction zone and find ways to leverage it to our advantage.”
Boris Yakobson, the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Engineering and professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice, and Thomas Senftle, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice, are also involved in the project. Other collaborators hail from the UK, Italy, Korea, and Spain, as well as U.S. labs and universities, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT and others.
In October, a separate team of Rice researchers released a study on a new synthesis process with applications in developing commercially relevant solar cells.