An unfortunate side effect of the all-carbon structure of single walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) is they are highly hydrophobic in nature, which results in insolubility in common solvents and immiscibility in many polymeric materials. Both of which limits the ability to process them for many applications [1
]. Thus, an ongoing area of interest is the formation of individual SWCNTs rather than bundles or aggregates. Several methods have been used to functionalize SWCNT bundles with solubilizing substituents; however, only some methods exfoliate the bundles. Solubilzation (miscibility) is made possible through either wrapping (surfacting) the SWNTs [2
], end-group functionalization [3
], or sidewall functionalization [5
]. Of these, it is the latter that has generated the most interest because of the wide range of functional groups it is possible to employ and the diverse methods for functionalization, including: free radical additions [7
], reactions with acids [8
], aryldiazonium salts [9
], carbenes and nitrenes [10
]. Furthermore, fluorination of the sidewalls leads to tubes that may be further functionalized by organolithium or Grignard reagents or primary amines [11
] as well as Diels–Alder (4 + 2) cycloaddition reaction [13
]. The majority of these approaches have only been carried out on a small scale; however, as SWCNTs become more economically viable, developing large scalable process for their functionalization becomes increasingly important.
One non-destructive approach that we believe has potential for large scale production of functionalized SWCNTs is the reaction of alkyl halides with reduced SWCNTs formed upon the reaction of SWCNTs with Group 1 metals [14
]. Using the Wilds and Nelson modification (Li metal in liquid NH3
) of the Birch reduction (Na metal in liquid NH3
], Billups and co-workers reported that SWCNTs were reduced to form solubilized anions that react with alkyl halides via a alkyl radical intermediates [14
]. Nanotubes that are highly soluble in solvents such as chloroform, THF and water may be prepared depending on the choice of substituent.
The advantage of the Billups-Birch route is that a wide range of substituents may be employed [19
]. For the effective functionalization of SWCNTS, a typical Billups–Birch reaction process is performed in a three-neck flask/Dewar condenser setup for 24 h with the flask submerged in an acetone-dry ice mixture. However, this generic simple setup has several limitations, as we don’t get actual information on the reaction kinetics and the duration of reaction. The scalable synthesis of highly solubilized undamaged nanotubes requires more robust and controllable approach. In this report, we introduce a state-of-the-art apparatus to functionalize SWCNTS in highly reproducible manner.
The use of Li/NH3
at commercial scale is has been investigated previously, and much can be learnt from these efforts. In particular, Joshi et al., have discussed the issues with running a Li/NH3
reduction reaction, at production plant levels, as part of the synthesis of a drug candidate: Sumanirole Maleate [21
], in particular challenges relating to the design of the equipment, choice and handling of materials, operations, and waste treatment. We have approached the creation of a flexible, safe and controllable process through the design of a reactor apparatus that can be reproduced in other laboratories. Herein we report an apparatus, designed by our late colleague and collaborator Robert Hauge that allows for not only scalability in running simultaneous samples and re-cycling the NH3
solvent (an important concern for commercialization), but provides in-situ monitoring and sample extraction. We have named the system in his memory.
2. Results and Discussion
2.1. Apparatus Design and Operation
shows a schematic representation of the Hauge apparatus, while Figure 2
shows a photograph of the twin reactor system. This new apparatus allows large-scale (300–500 mg) functionalization of SWCNTs in a single step. The major components of this advanced apparatus include two customized multiple-neck reaction flasks (RX-1 and RX-2) (for two simultaneous reactions) each attached to Dewar condenser (CD) and a sample extraction chamber (EC). Reaction flasks are connected to a mechanical pump (PU) and multiple inert gas supply lines. In order to monitor temperature and conductivity of the reactants, pressure and gas flow inside the flasks, this apparatus is equipped with various electronic probes attached to digital data collection devices (see Figure 1
and Figure 2
). Thus, the setup allows for the monitoring and recording of important reaction parameters, such as conductivity and temperature of the Li/NH3
solution during reaction process.
Prior to functionalization of SWCNTs the apparatus was checked for leaks to ensure that no adventitious oxidation (of the reduced species) occurs. The apparatus was evacuated for 10 min by a mechanical pump (PU) to a pressure of ~20 Torr. After closing the pump inlet valve (V-21/V-44) the pressure inside a reaction flask was continuously recorded for 20 min by an electronic pressure gauge attached to a LabQuest 2 digital data collection device (Vernier, CP/TC connections). As shown by Figure 3
, only a small pressure change (40 Torr) was observed after an interval of 20 min due small gaps inside the homogenizer shaft. The test confirmed that this apparatus was almost free of leaks and ideal for running reactions in inert environment.
2.2. Hazards Associated with Lithium Metal and Ammonia
One of the main goals in the design described above is to provide a safe process; however, due to the hazards associated with the handling of Li metal and liquid NH3 it is worth reviewing risks and appropriate protocols.
Metallic Li reacts violently with water to give off flammable explosive H2. The reaction with air, N2, and NH3 result in the formation of the oxide (Li2O), nitride (Li3N), and amide (LiNH2), respectively. Once a container of Li is opened, unused metal should be stored in mineral oil or under argon. Solid Li metal will cause skin and eye burns, as it reacts with moisture to form corrosive hydroxide (LiOH). When fighting Li fires, use of dry graphite powder or dry LiCl is recommended. Most importantly, water, sand, CO2, dry chemical, or halon should not be used.
Ammonia is highly corrosive and irritating to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. The boiling point of liquid ammonia is −33 °C, and so the temperature of all reactions should be monitored carefully. The use of dry ice-acetone bath (−78 °C) ensures sufficient cooling at all times and the presence of multiple thermocouples being placed at different points in the reactor to ensure that localized heating is not occurring. If the temperature does increases during the reaction there is the risk of over pressurization in the vessel. Thus, the pressure is monitored and a controllable exhaust line allows pressure to be relieved from the flask via a safety valve. It is essential to eliminate all leaks, provide good ventilation, and install suitable NH3 alarms near the equipment.
2.3. Example of SWCNT Functionalization
In order to demonstrate the suitability of the Hauge apparatus we have performed a typical alkylation reaction that can be compared to previous results [14
]. Reaction with 1-iododecane yield dodecane-functionalized SWCNTs (C12
-SWCNTs), whose solubility allows for ease of characterization. A sample of C12
-SWCNTs was prepared (see Experimental) and characterized by thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA) and Raman spectroscopy in comparison with the literature reported derivative [22
A TGA on a dodecylated sample (C12
-SWCNTs) was performed to determine the extent of functionalization and to correlate weight loss data with the carbon/alkyl group ratio. Using continuous heating of a C12
-SWCNTs sample under an argon atmosphere from 25 °C to 700 °C, a mass loss of 40.6% was observed (Figure 4
a). After accounting for the 21% residual iron catalyst content in our sample (from Figure 4
b), we calculate that the mass loss during pyrolysis implied an initial composition of one C12
group per 16.3 SWCNT carbon atoms. This ratio is consistent with, but slightly higher than, the ratio (one C12
group per 24 SWCNT carbon atoms) reported by Liang et al., for similar dodecylated samples [22
compares the Raman spectra of the chlorine purified HiPco SWCNTs and C12
functionalized HiPco SWCNTs. The tangential mode (G band) of the SWCNTs appears as a strong peak at ca. 1590 cm−1
with a shoulder at ca. 1560 cm−1
, and the disorder mode (D band) centered at ca. 1350 cm−1
. The ratio of the intensities of D and G band peaks (D:G ratio) provides a qualitative analysis of the extent of functionalization. Generally, the higher the D:G ratio, the higher the extent to which the SWCNTs have been functionalized; however, we note that variations also occur for changes in the special distribution of functional groups [23
]. However, the comparison is valid for different samples of the same functional group prepared by similar procedures. The precursor nanotubes have a near zero D:G ratio as a result of no functionalization, whereas the C12
functionalized sample shown in Figure 5
b has a D:G ratio of 0.955. This particular sample was functionalized for 30 min, and it exceeds reported values in literature for the same reaction conditions in previous iterations of a Birch reduction apparatus [22
]. Based on the implementation of identical reaction conditions using the same functionalization chemistry as reported previously [14
], we propose the functional groups are strongly attached to the SWCNT walls with a minimal increase in the average SWCNT diameter post-functionalization.
The TGA and Raman data are therefore consistent with a slight improvement in the efficiency of functionalization using the present system. Based upon the forgoing it is clear that this system allows for the successful synthesis of alkyl-functionalized SWCNTs.
2.4. Monitoring the Alkylation Reaction
As reported in the original literature [14
] the liquid NH3
was evaporated after the addition of the functional group (alkyl halide). It was assumed that this provided sufficient time for the reaction to reach completion. The reactor described herein offers the advantage that aliquots of the reaction mixture may be taken at any time. This capability further helps understanding of the reaction progress, which in turn provides important information, such as the effect of catalyst residue and extent of functionalization with time, in order to determine the most efficient, scalable method/protocol of functionalizing nanotubes.
In the present case aliquots were taken in-situ to track the progress of the reaction. These results were compared with those after 24 h reaction. The Raman spectra were obtained for each sample (Figure 6
shows the spectra for the samples with reaction time 1 ≤ t
≤ 20 min). Although the D:G ratio is often assumed to be a direct measure of functionalization [24
], it is also dependent on the distribution of functional groups [23
], making it hard to directly compare different sample types. However, in the present case where the functionalization is occurring in a single system, changes in special distribution should not be significant, and thus the D:G ratio is a good indicator of the extent of reaction.
By comparing the D:G ratios for each sample the progress of the reaction can be tracked and as may be seen from Figure 7
, 30 min appears to be an adequate time for the functionalization of SWCNTs to complete since the results are essentially indistinguishable from a sample prepared with 24 h reaction time. It should be noted that we use a condenser with a dry ice/acetone bath to prevent loss of NH3
from evaporation before the 30 min. reaction time is done.