Indexed on: 20 Dec '18Published on: 20 Dec '18Published in: Royal Society open science
We present research progress made in developing copper/carbon nanotube composites (Cu/CNT) to fulfil a growing demand for lighter copper substitutes with superior electrical, thermal and mechanical performances. Lighter alternatives to heavy copper electrical and data wiring are needed in automobiles and aircrafts to enhance fuel efficiencies. In electronics, better interconnects and thermal management components than copper with higher current- and heat-stabilities are required to enable device miniaturization with increased functionality. Our literature survey encouragingly indicates that Cu/CNT performances (electrical, thermal and mechanical) reported so far rival that of Cu, proving the material's viability as a Cu alternative. We identify two grand challenges to be solved for Cu/CNT to replace copper in real-life applications. The first grand challenge is to fabricate Cu/CNT with overall performances exceeding that of copper. To address this challenge, we propose research directions to fabricate Cu/CNT closer to ideal composites theoretically predicted to surpass Cu performances (i.e. ). The second grand challenge is to industrialize and transfer Cu/CNT from lab bench to real-life use. Toward this, we identify and propose strategies to address market-dependent issues for niche/mainstream applications. The current best Cu/CNT performances already qualify for application in niche electronic device markets as high-end interconnects. However, mainstream Cu/CNT application as copper replacements in conventional electronics and in electrical/data wires are long-term goals, needing inexpensive mass-production by methods aligned with existing industrial practices. Mainstream electronics require cheap CNT template-making and electrodeposition procedures, while data/electrical cables require manufacture protocols based on co-electrodeposition or melt-processing. We note (with examples) that initiatives devoted to Cu/CNT manufacturing for both types of mainstream applications are underway. With sustained research on Cu/CNT and accelerating its real-life application, we expect the successful evolution of highly functional, efficient, and sustainable next-generation electrical and electronics systems.