Superb conductors of heat and infinitesimal in size, carbon nanotubes might be used to prevent overheating in next-generation computing devices or as fillers to enhance thermal conductivity of insulating materials, such as durable plastics or engine oil. But a research team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered that the nanotubes’ role as thermal superconductors is greatly diminished when mixed with materials such as polymers that make up plastics.
“Carbon nanotubes are superior thermal conductors by themselves. But, that doesn’t mean they will exhibit the same level of high conductivity when integrated into other materials,” says Pawel Keblinski, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and head of Rensselaer’s research team. His team’s research is published in this month’s issue of Nature Materials.
A global team of researchers was optimistic when a one-percent fraction of carbon nanotubes was added to epoxy and other organic materials, and the thermal conductivity of the newly created composites increased two- or threefold. But, using conventional engineering estimates, Keblinski noted that the composites’ conductivity should have had 50-fold increases.
Jodi Ackerman | Rensselaer News
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