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Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been extensively investigated in the last decade because their superior properties could benefit many applications. However, CNTs have not yet made a major leap into industry, especially for electronic devices, because of fabrication challenges. This review provides an overview of state-of-the-art of CNT synthesis techniques and illustrates their major technical difficulties. It also charts possible in situ analyses and new reactor designs that might enable commercialization. After a brief description of the CNT properties and of the various techniques used to synthesize substrate-free CNTs, the bulk of this review analyzes chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This technique receives special attention since it allows CNTs to be grown in predefined locations, provides a certain degree of control of the types of CNTs grown, and may have the highest chance to succeed commercially. Understanding the primary growth mechanisms at play during CVD is critical for controlling the properties of the CNTs grown and remains the major hurdle to overcome. Various factors that influence CNT growth receive a special focus: choice of catalyst and substrate materials, source gases, and process parameters. This review illustrates important considerations for in situ characterization and new reactor designs that may enable researchers to better understand the physical growth mechanisms and to optimize the synthesis of CNTs, thus contributing to make carbon nanotubes a manufacturing reality.
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