|Plata, D.L., Hart, A.J., Reddy, C.M., Gschwend, P.M., Early evaluation of potential environmental impacts of carbon nanotube synthesis by chemical vapor deposition., Env. Sci. and Technol., Published October 7, 2009|
The carbon nanotube (CNT) industry is expanding rapidly, yet little is known about the potential environmental impacts of CNT manufacture. Here, we evaluate the effluent composition of a representative multiwalled CNT synthesis by catalytic chemical vapor deposition (CVD) in order to provide data needed to design strategies for mitigating any unacceptable emissions. During thermal pretreatment of the reactant gases (ethene and H2), we found over 45 side-products were formed, including methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This finding suggests several environmental concerns with the existing process, including potential discharges of the potent greenhouse gas, methane (up to 1.7%), and toxic compounds such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene (up to 36000 ppmv). Extrapolating these laboratory-scale data to future industrial CNT production, we estimate that (1) contributions of atmospheric methane will be negligible compared to other existing sources and (2) VOC and PAH emissions may become important on local scales but will be small when compared to national industrial sources. As a first step toward reducing such unwanted emissions, we used continuous in situ measures of CNT length during growth and sought to identify which thermally generated compounds correlated with CNT growth rate. The results suggested that, in future CNT production approaches, key reaction intermediates could be delivered to the catalyst without thermal treatment. This would eliminate the most energetically expensive component of CVD synthesis (heating reactant gases), while reducing the formation of unintended byproducts.