Replacing scarce metals with carbon nanomaterials is possible, say researchers

September 19, 2017 // By Julien Happich
Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) have studied the main applications of 14 different metals, and reviewing patents and scientific literature, investigated the potential for replacing them by carbon nanomaterials such as graphene, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.

While society is highly dependent on scarce metals such as tin, silver, tungsten and indium, these are both rare and difficult to extract since the workable concentrations are very small, making them sources of conflicts. They are also difficult to recycle profitably since they are often present in small quantities in various electronic components.

Rickard Arvidsson and Björn Sandén, researchers in environmental systems analysis at Chalmers University of Technology, have examined carbon nanomaterials with good conductivity, like scarce metals. They reckon a shift away from scarce metals to carbon nanomaterials is already taking place.

“There are potential technology-based solutions for replacing 13 out of the 14 metals by carbon nanomaterials in their most common applications. The technology development is at different stages for different metals and applications, but in some cases such as indium and gallium, the results are very promising,” Arvidsson notes.

“Now technology development has allowed us to make greater use of the common element carbon,” says Sandén. “Today there are many new carbon nanomaterials with similar properties to metals. It’s a welcome new track, and it’s important to invest in both the recycling and substitution of scarce metals from now on.”