Ultralight anisotropic foams from layered aligned carbon nanotube sheets†
In this work, we present large scale, ultralight aligned carbon nanotube (CNT) structures which have densities an order of magnitude lower than CNT arrays, have tunable properties and exhibit resiliency after compression. By stacking aligned sheets of carbon nanotubes and then infiltrating with a pyrolytic carbon (PyC), resilient foam-like materials were produced that exhibited complete recovery from 90% compressive strain. With density as low as 3.8 mg cm−3, the foam structure is over 500 times less dense than bulk graphite. Microscopy revealed that PyC coated the junctions among CNTs, and also increased CNT surface roughness. These changes in the morphology explain the transition from inelastic behavior to foam-like recovery of the layered CNT sheet structure. Mechanical and thermal properties of the foams were tuned for different applications through variation of PyC deposition duration while dynamic mechanical analysis showed no change in mechanical properties over a large temperature range. Observation of a large and linear electrical resistance change during compression of the aligned CNT/carbon (ACNT/C) foams makes strain/pressure sensors a relevant application. The foams have high oil absorption capacities, up to 275 times their own weight, which suggests they may be useful in water treatment and oil spill cleanup. Finally, the ACNT/C foam's high porosity, surface area and stability allow for demonstration of the foams as catalyst support structures.