Researchers at Cambridge University have made a breakthrough in the manufacture of carbon nanotubes. They claim it heralds the beginning of the end for the silicon industry and the start of a new era of carbon nanotube-based miniaturised electronic applications.
The team from the university's engineering department has developed a way of growing single-wall carbon nanotubes at far lower temperatures than was previously believed possible.
Cantoro and his colleagues have experimented using CVD to closely control the development of the thin films of nanotubes and were able to reduce the temperature at which the nanotubes grow from 700C to 600C and finally to the breakthrough temperature of 350C. Cantoro describes 350C as being a 'technologically relevant number' as it means that the integration of nanotubes into semiconductors can now begin.
Cantoro admits there are a number of technical obstacles to overcome before carbon nanotubes can begin to usurp silicon for electronics supremacy. These include the ability to closely design the conductive properties of the nanotube and the difficulties inherent in growing a nanotube from one point to another.
Cantoro said the current trend of squeezing circuits and semiconductors into smaller and smaller spaces means there is a much greater current density on the circuits. As nanotubes are better able to withstand high current density than silicon, they could open up a whole new world of powerful miniaturised electronics, he says.
The team's next step is to work on integrating the carbon nanotubes fully with silicon semiconductors. Cantoro claimed that by early 2010 the first commercial circuits and semiconductor chips based entirely on carbon nanotubes will be in development.