Science is continuously breaking new ground and expanding the limits of what is possible. The incorporation of carbon materials into our daily lives is becoming more and more common due to their properties and endless possibilities. We are bringing you some of the latest finds from research for your daily dose of carbon. 

1.Clothing. The concept of smart clothing is not something new. For example, Google explored this together with the clothing brand Levi’s already years ago. The concept of using carbon nanomaterials in clothing is, however, something to talk about. Researchers at Rice University managed to create flexible carbon nanotube fibers that can be incorporated into clothing to function as wearable health monitors. The new thread is highly conductive, but it is washable and strong, allowing it to function as an unobtrusive component of clothing. 

2.Cosmetics. Carbon black is known to be a significant ingredient in cosmetic formulations and is frequently utilized as a colourant in eye and skin cosmetic products such as eyeliners, mascaras and lipsticks. Recent findings show that carbon nanomaterials are helpful in allowing certain substances in skincare products, called “active moieties,” to be absorbed into the layers of the skin. This leads to a powerful release of these active ingredients either all at once (burst release) or over time (sustained release). 

3. Electric cars. Did you know that 20% of an average lithium-ion battery is graphite? Graphite is used in electric car battery anodes due to its high capacity to store lithium ions, good conductivity, and stability during repeated charging and discharging cycles. As graphite is mined or synthesised out of fossil fuels, the development of new sustainable production methods has sparked a great scientific interest. The focal points of the research include graphite recycling from end-life batteries, and battery-grade graphite production out of sustainable raw materials, such as biomass and CO2. Scientists have developed an environmentally friendly technique of graphite recycling from spent LIB by water leaching, followed by atmospheric plasma jet printing.  

Graphene is another material that has revolutionised EV battery production. Flexibility, excellent heat and electric conductivity, fast charging, and non-flammable and non-explosive battery properties make people speak about graphene as the new wonder material that will soon replace lithium-ion batteries. Researchers at the University of Queensland in collaboration with UniQuest have developed a graphene aluminium-ion battery that is not only sustainable but also exhibited a 3 times longer battery life and 70 times faster charging.    

4. Biomedicine. It is rather well-known that CNTs and graphene have been shown to effectively transport drugs to specific cells and tissues in the body, for example, deliver anticancer drugs directly to tumours. Researchers from MIT have recently designed a novel sensor based on carbon nanotube sensor technology capable of rapidly detecting SARS-CoV-2 without requiring any antibodies or reagents. The main advantage of this sensor is that it can avoid many time-consuming steps, such as the production of antibodies and purification. Researchers are confident that this new sensor will not only accurately diagnose COVID-19 but also detect other viruses that have the potential of causing future pandemics such as Influenza A. 

5. Air purification. Graphene is able to effectively remove impurities from the air, making it a promising material for use in air filters. Recently, scientists developed a lightweight and ultra-compact atomically thin graphene-based filter that can block aerosolized nanoparticles of size in the sub-20 nm range. Nanoparticulate aerosols contain toxins, pollutants, and harmful viruses, e.g., influenza virus, coronavirus, and rhinovirus, whose size varies between 20 and 300 nm in diameter. Although conventional air filters exhibit superior air flow rates, they are unable to inhibit nanoparticulate aerosols whose size is less than 300 nm. 

6. Concrete. A team of scientists at the Imperial College London have found that by incorporating carbon nanotubes into concrete, they were able to significantly improve the material’s strength and durability. Like many nanomaterial additives, only a small amount (0.05%) of CNTs is needed to induce benefits. CNTs also improve the crack resistance of concrete, and in particular, the flexural crack resistance. At room temperatures, the crack resistance properties can be enhanced by up to 35%, however, these properties start to deteriorate beyond 400 °C. 

7. Agriculture. The main aim of incorporating carbon nanomaterials in agriculture is the protection and growth of crops through sustainable practices.  Carbon nanotubes have been tested in sensing sensors and diagnostic devices to monitor the crop health, i.e., stress indicators, and disease detectors. Nanocarbon-based minerals and fertilisers are found to stimulate plant growth, increase nutrient availability and reduce nutrient losses. Previous research findings suggest that 50 mg/mL of SWCNT and MWCNT exposure enhanced the total fresh biomass of tomato seeds by 75% and 110%, respectively. As in biomedicine, CNTs have been studied for the development of smart delivery systems. This is a new approach that uses encapsulated agrochemicals in CNTs or in graphene-oxide that can deliver precisely the nutrients and control the release of fertilisers based on the plant’s needs.  

Carbon materials have a profound impact on our daily lives and will continue to do so through future innovation. The integration of carbon materials into industries such as construction, transportation, and healthcare has revolutionized the way these fields operate and offer limitless opportunities for improvement. It is crucial, however, that we transition away from unsustainable sources and adopt more environmentally friendly alternatives. But this is already a story for another time.  
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