There are many possible nanotubes. Some, like carbon nanotubes, are made from common (and therefore inexpensive) material and relatively easy to manufacture and manipulate. Others, such as boron nitride nanotubes, have great potential but are famously difficult to manufacture – which is to say prohibitive for widespread use. The potential is clear: Boron nitride nanotubes can operate at very high temperatures, over 1100 degrees Celsius, which would cook most other nanotube materials. They are also perfect insulators, so without any cross-electrical complexity they can be ‘doped’ (coated) with semi-conducting material with very precise control. In short, they would be ideal for a wide variety of high performance uses. That’s why the technique created by Michigan Technological University (USA) for making boron nitride nanotubes is important.
The researchers considered the drawbacks of making boron nitride nanotubes – requiring special instrumentation, dangerous chemistry, and temperatures of over 1,500 degrees Celsius. They decided that what was needed was a little help, which in nanochemistry (as elsewhere) means catalysts. In this case it meant using substrates (the base material) made of simple catalysts magnesium oxide, iron or nickel. This worked with the same temperature (about 1100 degrees Centigrade) and instrumentation used for making carbon nanotubes.
One of the interesting developments after the boron nitride nanotubes could be made in quantity was the discovery that…
These transparent nanotube sheets have another interesting property: they shed water like a duck’s back, a quality known as the lotus effect. “Water just slides away,” says Yoke Khin Yap, associate professor of physics.”Anything coated with it would not only be stain resistant, it would be protected from anything water-soluble.” This superhydrophobicity holds at all pH levels, so anything coated with it would be protected from even the strongest acids and alkalis.
[Source: Nanotechnology Today]
The immediate next steps are various testing trials, both of applications and manufacturing techniques. Someday, probably within a couple of years, boron nitride nanotubes will be looking for commercial applications.