Single-walled carbon nanotubes


Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are one-dimensional nanomaterials composed of a single sheet of graphene rolled up into a seamless hollow cylinder. SWCNTs have diameters on the order of 1-2 nm but can range up to centimeters in length. They possess exceptional properties:

  • Extremely high tensile strength and stiffness
  • High thermal and electrical conductivity
  • Can be metallic or semiconducting depending on chirality
  • Large surface area and aspect ratio
  • Low density.


Schematic representation of single walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) and... | Download Scientific Diagram

Figure 1. Schematic representation of single walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) and multi walled carbon nanotube (MWCNT).

SWCNTs can be categorized based on structure:

  • Semiconducting – exhibit bandgap similar to silicon, useful for transistors
  • Metallic – display excellent conductivity, for interconnects

Table 1. Properties of SWCNTs.

Property Description
Tensile strength 10-100 times higher than steel
Electrical conductivity Ballistic conduction, higher than copper
Thermal conductivity Double that of diamond
Aspect ratio Up to 132,000,000:1

These remarkable properties arise from the nanotube’s perfect carbon lattice structure and strong sp2 carbon-carbon bonds.

Key applications of SWCNTs include:

  • Electronics – transistors, displays, sensors
  • Structural composites – high strength, low weight
  • Energy storage – batteries, supercapacitors
  • Biomedicine – biosensors, drug delivery

Global demand for SWCNTs is projected to rapidly increase as capabilities in selective synthesis, separation, and assembly improve. Their tailored properties hold great promise to enable next-generation technologies.

Synthesis of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

Several methods have been developed to synthesize single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) including arc discharge, laser ablation, and chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Each process has its own advantages and limitations.

Arc Discharge

  • Electric arc vaporizes carbon from an anode to synthesize CNTs on the cathode
  • First method used to produce CNTs
  • Yields up to 70% but with impurities

Laser Ablation

  • High power laser is focused on graphite target
  • Vaporized carbon forms SWCNTs on cooler surfaces
  • High quality but low yields around 10-30%

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)

  • Carbon feedstock gas decomposed on catalyst nanoparticles
  • Most common method, accounts for over 75% production
  • Scalable but can have more defects than arc/laser methods

Advantages of CVD Synthesis

  • Continuous process with high purity, yield and scalability
  • Allows good control over growth parameters
  • Lower costs compared to laser ablation

Disadvantages of CVD

  • Less control over nanotube structure
  • Range of tube lengths and defects
  • Needs post-synthesis purification


Table 2. Summary of SWCNT synthesis methods.

Method Purity Yield Cost
Arc discharge High Up to 70% High
Laser ablation High 10-30% Very High
CVD Medium Up to 90% Low

Applications of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes in Electronics

The unique electronic properties of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) make them highly promising for next-generation nanoelectronics and optoelectronics. Their small size, ballistic transport, and high current density can overcome limitations of traditional silicon transistors.


  • SWCNT thin film transistors (TFTs) developed as transparent, flexible alternative
  • Semiconducting SWCNTs used as channel, metals as electrodes
  • Enable lightweight, durable electronics like displays, radio frequency ID tags

Conductive Films

  • Metallic SWCNT films used as transparent conductors
  • Higher conductivity than indium tin oxide (ITO)
  • Used in touch screens, OLED displays, solar cells


  • SWCNTs can carry high current densities >109 A/cm2
  • Potential replacement for copper interconnects in ICs
  • Lower resistivity and reduced electromigration


  • Individual SWCNTs show ballistic transport
  • Can make ultra-small SWCNT transistors, logic gates
  • Quantum devices like single electron transistors


  • Difficulty controlling chirality during synthesis
  • Variability in properties between nanotubes
  • High contact resistance to electrodes
  • Large scale alignment and placement remains difficult

Further advances in selective SWCNT separation and precise assembly/integration will enable their disruptive potential in electronics.

Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes for Li-ion Batteries

Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) have emerged as a promising material to enhance the performance and durability of Li-ion batteries. Their high surface area, conductivity, and mechanical resilience impart advantages over conventional graphite anodes.

Advantages of SWCNTs for Li-ion Anodes

  • High theoretical specific capacity up to 1116 mAh/g
  • Faster charge transfer kinetics
  • Long cycle life with over 90% capacity retention
  • High rate capability enabling fast charging
  • Good mechanical properties to accommodate volume changes

Improved Capacity

  • SWCNTs can store lithium ions via intercalation between tubular layers as well as surface adsorption
  • Enables higher specific capacity compared to graphite (372 mAh/g)

Faster Charging

  • Metallic SWCNTs provide excellent electrical conductivity
  • Accelerates electron transfer during charging/discharging
  • SWCNT anodes maintain performance at high charge/discharge rates

Longer Cycle Life

  • SWCNT paper electrodes show minimal capacity fade after thousands of cycles
  • Flexible network structure tolerates expansion/contraction


  • Higher cost than conventional graphite
  • Difficulty with precise chirality control
  • SWCNT bundling reduces surface area

Further improvements in scalable SWCNT synthesis, dispersion, and electrode fabrication can enable their integration into commercial Li-ion batteries with improved energy density.


Toxicity and Environmental Impact of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

The potential toxicity of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) requires careful evaluation to ensure their safe and sustainable development. Some concerns have been raised over exposure risks and biological effects.

Exposure Pathways

  • Inhalation – airborne SWCNTs enter lungs
  • Ingestion – traces migrating from packaging into food/water
  • Dermal – topical exposure from cosmetics or clothing

Toxicity Mechanisms

  • Physical damage to cell membranes from direct nanotube interactions
  • Oxidative stress and inflammation in lungs
  • Fibrogenesis from chronic exposure

Factors Influencing Toxicity

  • SWCNT length – longer tubes show higher toxicity
  • Agglomeration state – more dispersed increases risks
  • Surface chemistry – functionalization can reduce reactivity

Environmental Effects

  • SWCNT release into water systems from production or waste
  • Can accumulate in organisms, up the food chain
  • Long-term ecological impacts remain unknown

Risk Reduction Strategies

  • Safer-by-design approaches during synthesis
  • Worker protection from occupational exposures
  • Emission control during production/disposal
  • More chronic toxicity testing for various exposure routes

Responsible development and life cycle analysis of SWCNTs is crucial to reduce associated risks. Their high potential across many beneficial applications warrants proactive safety research parallel to continued nanotube innovations.


Global Market for Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

The global market for single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) has witnessed robust growth in recent years driven by rising adoption across industries such as electronics, energy storage, composites, and biomedicine. The market is projected to reach over $600 million by 2025.

Major Applications

  • Li-ion batteries
  • Electronics
  • Polymer composites
  • Biomedical applications

Market Drivers

  • Increased R&D into nanotube synthesis and assembly
  • Demand for lightweight and flexible electronics
  • Adoption in next-gen batteries and supercapacitors
  • Strict emissions norms driving automotive demand

Key Challenges

  • High production and purification costs
  • Lack of standardized quality control and characterization
  • Need for improved selectivity of electronic type

Global Production

  • Key players include Chasm Advanced Materials, Korbon, Meijo Nano Carbon, OCSiAl and Zeon Nano Technology.

With improving manufacturing processes, SWCNT commercialization will continue to accelerate, especially in electronics and energy applications. Responsible development and safety assessments remain critical.


Applications of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes in Composites

Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) have emerged as an exciting reinforcing nanofiller to produce multifunctional polymer matrix composites with dramatically enhanced mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties at low loading levels.

Mechanical Properties

  • Tensile strength increased 2-5X with 1 wt% SWCNT loading
  • Young’s modulus increased by upto 40%
  • Improves flexural strength, fracture toughness

Electrical Conductivity

  • Percolation threshold ~0.1 wt% loading
  • Resistivity drops exponentially with higher loading
  • Applications in EMI shielding, antistatic coatings

Thermal Conductivity

  • Up to 2X increase in thermal conductivity
  • Better dissipation of heat from electronics

Key Challenges

  • Agglomeration and poor nanotube dispersion
  • Low interfacial adhesion between nanotube and matrix
  • Difficulty processing high aspect ratio SWCNTs
  • Cost barriers for commercial adoption

Potential Applications

  • Structural components for aerospace, automotive, marine
  • Conductive and antistatic paints and coatings
  • Thermal interface materials for electronics
  • Wear-resistant parts and tribological coatings
  • Flame-retardant composites

Realizing the full potential of SWCNT nanocomposites requires continued progress in scalable nanotube synthesis, purification, and composite fabrication techniques. Their exceptional multifunctionality could enable disruptive lightweight materials.

Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes for Biomedical Applications

The unique properties of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) make them highly promising for a range of biomedical applications including biosensing, drug/gene delivery, tissue engineering, and medical imaging.

Biosensing Platforms

  • SWCNT field effect transistors as ultrasensitive, real-time biosensors
  • Detect ions, small molecules, nucleic acids, proteins
  • Useful for point-of-care diagnostics

Drug/Gene Delivery

  • SWCNTs can transport therapeutic molecules into cells
  • High surface area for drug loading
  • NIR absorbance allows photothermal release triggering

Tissue Engineering Scaffolds

  • SWCNT films support cell adhesion and growth
  • Can electrically stimulate cell cultures
  • Potential neural interfaces and muscle regeneration

Photothermal Therapy

  • NIR irradiation of SWCNTs in tumors generates localized heating
  • Destruction of cancer cells with minimal side effects

Medical Imaging

  • SWCNTs as contrast agents for cancer imaging
  • Raman detection enables multiplexed imaging
  • Fluorescence in NIR-I window for deep tissue imaging


  • Controlling surface chemistry and non-specific interactions
  • Limiting nanotube aggregation
  • Biocompatibility concerns over toxicity
  • Complex regulatory approval for clinical use

The multifunctional properties of SWCNTs offer many possibilities for biomedical innovation. However responsible design and testing will be critical for clinical translation.


Purification and Functionalization of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

As-produced single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) contain impurities from synthesis that can impair their properties and performance. Applying purification and functionalization processes is critical to optimize SWCNTs for different applications.

Purification Techniques

  • Oxidation – gas phase or liquid phase oxidation to selectively burn away impurities
  • Filtration – size exclusion using membranes
  • Chromatography – separation by interaction with column stationary phase
  • Centrifugation – selective sedimentation due to density differences

Benefits of Purification

  • Removes amorphous carbon, leftover catalyst, and other impurities
  • Improves optical properties by increasing emission efficiency
  • Reduces defects to enhance electrical and thermal properties
  • Enables subsequent surface functionalization

Functionalization Methods

  • Covalent – form covalent bonds between functional groups and SWCNT sidewalls
  • Non-covalent – surfactants, polymers wrap around nanotube surface
  • Endohedral – filling of interior cavity with atoms/molecules

Applications of Functionalization

  • Improves nanotube dispersion and compatibility in solvents and matrices
  • Adds new functional groups for further chemistry or conjugation
  • Adjusts electronic properties from metallic to semiconducting
  • Enables targeting and selectivity for biomedical uses

Developing scalable purification and selective separation methods remains a key priority for commercialization. Better understanding nanotube structure-function relationships can guide optimal surface functionalization.


Future Outlook for Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) possess exceptional properties that offer tremendous potential to enable breakthroughs across diverse technological fields. However, continued innovation and responsible commercialization will be critical to fully realize their possibilities.

Future Opportunities

Emerging applications taking advantage of SWCNT capabilities include:

  • Flexible electronics – foldable displays, wearables, sensors
  • Multifunctional composites – lightweight structures, conductive plastics
  • High-density Li-ion batteries – electric vehicles, renewables storage
  • Neural interfaces and prosthetics – regenerative medicine
  • Water purification membranes – accessible drinking water

Development Priorities

Targeted efforts to improve:

  • Control over chirality and selective separation of electronic types
  • Scalable precision assembly into films and macrostructures
  • Understanding environmental and biological interactions
  • Modeling structure-property relationships

Manufacturing Innovations

  • Continuous reactor processes for high-volume production
  • Novel catalysts to lower synthesis temperatures
  • Integrating purification into main synthesis route

Commercial Challenges

  • Reducing costs for viability across many applications
  • Lack of standardized quality assessment protocols
  • Uncertainty over future supply and demand as market develops


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