Tough sheets of nanowires produced floating in the gas phase†
Assembling nanostructured building blocks into network materials unlocks macroscopic properties inaccessible with monolithic solids, notably toughness and tolerance to electrochemical alloying. A method is reported for large-scale, continuous synthesis of silicon nanowires (SiNWs) suspended in the gas phase and their direct assembly into macroscopic sheets. Performing gas-phase growth of SiNWs through floating catalyst chemical vapor deposition using an aerosol of gold nanoparticles eliminates the need for substrates, increasing the growth rate by a factor of 500, reaching 1.4 μm s−1 and leading to very long SiNWs. The combined high aspect ratio (>210) and large concentration of SiNWs in the gas-phase (1.5 × 107 cm−3) enable the formation of macroscopic solids solely composed of percolated SiNWs, such as free-standing sheets and continuous metre-long SiNW tapes. Sheet samples of small diameter SiNWs (<25 nm) combine extraordinary flexibility in bending, tensile ductility around 3%, and over 50-fold higher toughness than Si-based anodes (fracture energy 0.18 ± 0.1 J g−1). This synthesis and assembly process should be applicable to virtually any one-dimensional inorganic nanomaterial producible by thermochemical methods.