Researchers have developed a method of creating the nanomaterial MXene in bulk quantities without sacrificing quality, releasing its mainstream potential.
Prior to the invention of MXene, producing bulk quantities of nanomaterials was a significant challenge faced by the materials industry. A team of researchers from Drexel University and the Materials Research Center, Ukraine, have designed a system of creating large quantities of MXene while preserving its distinctive properties.
According to Advanced Engineering Materials, a lab-scale reactor system can convert a ceramic precursor material into powdery black MXene titanium carbide, in quantities as large as 50 grams per batch, contrasting the 1-2 grams produced previously.
In order to achieve viable mainstream manufacturing practices, large batches of the material must be refined and produced with consistency at a reasonable scale.
“Proving a material has certain properties is one thing, but proving that it can overcome the practical challenges of manufacturing is an entirely different hurdle – this study reports on an important step in this direction,” said Yury Gogotsi, professor at Drexel’s College of Engineering.
Gogotsi continued: “This means that MXene can be considered for widespread use in electronics and energy storage devices.”
Researchers at Drexel’s College of Engineering have been producing MXene in small quantities since the material was first synthesised in 2011. The layered nanomaterial starts as a piece of ceramic called a MAX phase. When a mixture of hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acid interacts with the MAX phase it etches away certain parts of the material, creating the nanometer-thin flakes characteristic of MXenes.
How is MXene created in bulk?
In a research environment this method uses a 60ml container, where the ingredients are added and mixed by hand. In order to produce this material in bulk, the group uses a one-litre reactor chamber and a screw feeder device to precisely add MAX phase. One inlet feeds the reactants uniformly into the reactor and another allows for gas pressure relief during the reaction. A mixing blade ensures thorough and uniform mixing. And a cooling jacket around the reactor lets the team adjust the temperature of the reaction. This entire process is computerised and controlled by a software program created by the Materials Research Center team.
“Most 2D materials are made using a bottom-up approach,” said Christopher Shuck, a post-doctoral researcher in the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute.
Shuck continued: “This is where the atoms are added individually, one by one. These materials can be grown on specific surfaces or by depositing atoms using very expensive equipment.
“But even with these expensive machines and catalysts used, the production batches are time-consuming, small and still prohibitively expensive for widespread use beyond small electronic devices.”