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Detection of airborne carbon nanotubes based on the reactivity of the embeded catalyst

Detection of airborne carbon nanotubes based on the reactivity of the embeded catalyst

N. Neubauer, G. Kasper


Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 2015, 12, 3, 182-188

A previously described method for detecting catalyst particles in workplace air(1,2) was applied to airborne carbon nanotubes (CNT). It infers the CNT concentration indirectly from the catalytic activity of metallic nanoparticles embedded as part of the CNT production process. Essentially, one samples airborne CNT onto a filter enclosed in a tiny chemical reactor and then initiates a gas-phase catalytic reaction on the sample. The change in concentration of one of the reactants is then determined by an IR sensor as measure of activity. The method requires a one-point calibration with a CNT sample of known mass.
The suitability of the method was tested with nickel containing (25 or 38% by weight), well-characterized multi-walled CNT aerosols generated freshly in the lab for each experiment. Two chemical reactions were investigated, of which the oxidation of CO to CO2 at 470ºC was found to be more effective, because nearly 100% of the nickel was exposed at that temperature by burning off the carbon, giving a linear relationship between CO conversion and nickel mass.
Based on the investigated aerosols, a lower detection limit of 1 μg of sampled nickel was estimated. This translates into sampling times ranging from minutes to about one working day, depending on airborne CNT concentration, catalyst content, as well as sampling flow rate. The time for the subsequent chemical analysis is on the order of minutes, regardless of the time required to accumulate the sample and can be done on site.