Technological Advances and The Carbon Materials

Carbon is one of the most abundant elements in nature, having the ability to be chemically combined with itself and with other elements by strong covalent bonds producing various structures that enable the development of materials of various properties. Carbon materials can be very hard like diamonds or graphite because they are easily laminated, very dense, high strength (carbon / carbon composite material), and therefore suitable for structural applications (airplanes and racing cars), or very porous (activated carbon); the latter are useful as adsorbents for energy storage or as a catalyst support. They can be very conductive (graphite) or insulating (vitreous carbon). This broad spectrum of properties is strengthened by the fact that only carbon materials can operate at high temperatures in the most extreme conditions.

The carbon materials have been gathered much attention with the discovery of fullerenes and nanotubes. However, traditional carbon materials have played an important role since prehistoric times (pigment in cave paintings, a component of gunpowder, writing) and have contributed to the industrial and technological development of our society (steel).

The discovery of carbon fibers in the ’60s, with its high strength and flexibility, was a major milestone in the development of these materials. In parallel, we discover the vitreous carbon, named after filing a conchoidal fracture surface, with properties similar to glass, very hard and brittle. At the same time, the discovery of new structural forms of graphitic carbon, needle and spherules, ostensibly contributed to the development of new carbon products for very diverse applications.

The excellent biocompatibility of carbon materials, discovered in the 70s, its use in prostheses, ligaments and heart valves, among others.

In the early ’80s, the development of technology for producing blocks of high density isotropic graphite allowed its use in high temperature reactors, in devices of synthesis of semiconductor crystals and to components of electric discharge electrodes. At mid-80s, the introduction of carbon fibers in civil engineering, architectural systems (buildings, bridges) with the discovery of fullerenes.

In the 90s, was discovered nanotubes, opening a new era for carbon materials: the era of the nanostructure. It is not just the world of carbon graphite flat structures or three-dimensional type diamond, but we are now with closed structures containing pentagons of carbon atoms and carbon tubes with diameters in the nanometer scale, made of a sheet simple curved carbon atoms in hexagonal distribution. The discovery of carbon nanotubes of a single wall (single) and multiple wall, stimulated the interest of scientists and engineers in fields related to nanotechnology. At the same time, new applications of the materials of the family of graphite, such as anode materials for Li-ion battery rechargeable carbon fiber water purification, activated carbon electrodes for electric double layer supercapacitors, etc..