A new role for discarded single-use facemasks has been devised by researchers from Swansea University, Wales. The carbon contained in used masks can be recovered and upcycled to synthesize high-quality single-walled carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which can then be exploited in the manufacture of Ethernet cable with broadband quality.

Coarsely chopped surgical mask materials were suspended in toluene and injected into a chemical vapor deposition reactor previously optimized for CNT production using liquid injection. The CNTs grown in a 78 cm long quartz tube, characterized in terms of voltage and current supply, and used to produce individual wires. When installed to connect two computers, the CNT-based Ethernet cable was demonstrated to reach about 100 Mbps throughput to meet CAT5 transmission standards.

Professor Alvin Orbaek White, a coauthor of the study, said, "Single-use facemasks are a real travesty for the recycling system as they create vast amounts of plastic waste — much of it ending up in our oceans. During the study, we established that the carbon inside the facemask can be used as a pretty good feedstock to make high-quality materials like CNTs."

The liquid dispersion and upcycling processes detailed in Carbon Letters could also prove of value in the production of lightweight batteries used in electric vehicles and drones.

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