Graphitic nanostructures such as fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene-based sheets have long been the fascination of scientists and engineers due to their excellent properties that could lead to smaller, stronger, smarter and cleaner materials and technologies. While great material properties have been discovered in these graphitic nanomaterials in lab scale quantities, a major roadblock that needs to be lifted before their widespread industrial applications is their poor processability and tendency to aggregate in solvents. Strategies for making them more soluble typically involve the use of hard-to-clean surfactants, harsh and toxic solvents, and extensive chemical modification of their surfaces, which usually increase the complexity, potential negative environmental impact and cost of material manufacturing. This project aims to develop green, water-based processing techniques and the associated material assembly sciences of these graphitic nanomaterials inspired by on our recent discovery of graphene oxide as sheet-like surfactant. Based on the interactions between these dot-, tube- and sheet-like carbon nanostructures, self-stabilized aqueous dispersions of composites made of two or all of these materials should be feasible. Therefore, an abruptly different idea is to process these graphitic nano-carbon materials in water without the need for any extra surfactant or dispersion agent.
New materials and technologies for green manufacturing and clean energy are central to the interest and sustainability of our society. If successful, this project will lead to green material processing strategy that could eliminate or minimize the use of toxic, aggressive solvents or extensive material modification typically employed to improve solution processability. It could also lead to unprecedented photovoltaic materials completely made of carbon, and high performance carbon-based electrodes for electrical energy conversion and storage.