Pyrolytic carbon

Pyrolytic carbon

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Pyrolytic carbon is a material
Material is anything made of matter, constituted of one or more substances. Wood, cement, hydrogen, air and water are all examples of materials. Sometimes the term "material" is used more narrowly to refer to substances or components with certain physical properties that are used as inputs to...

 similar to graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

, but with some covalent bond
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

ing between its graphene
Graphene is an allotrope of carbon, whose structure is one-atom-thick planar sheets of sp2-bonded carbon atoms that are densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. The term graphene was coined as a combination of graphite and the suffix -ene by Hanns-Peter Boehm, who described single-layer...

 sheets as a result of imperfections in its production.

Pyrolytic carbon is man-made and not found in nature. Generally it is produced by heating a hydrocarbon nearly to its decomposition temperature, and permitting the graphite to crystal
A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography...

lise (pyrolysis
Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures without the participation of oxygen. It involves the simultaneous change of chemical composition and physical phase, and is irreversible...

). One method is to heat synthetic fiber
Synthetic fiber
Synthetic fibers are the result of extensive research by scientists to improve on naturally occurring animal and plant fibers. In general, synthetic fibers are created by forcing, usually through extrusion, fiber forming materials through holes into the air, forming a thread...

s in a vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

. Another method is to place seeds or a plate in the very hot gas to collect the graphite coating.

Physical properties

Pyrolytic carbon samples usually have a single cleavage
Cleavage (crystal)
Cleavage, in mineralogy, is the tendency of crystalline materials to split along definite crystallographic structural planes. These planes of relative weakness are a result of the regular locations of atoms and ions in the crystal, which create smooth repeating surfaces that are visible both in the...

 plane, similar to mica
The mica group of sheet silicate minerals includes several closely related materials having highly perfect basal cleavage. All are monoclinic, with a tendency towards pseudohexagonal crystals, and are similar in chemical composition...

, because the graphene sheets crystallize in a planar order, as opposed to graphite, which forms microscopic randomly-oriented zones. Because of this, pyrolytic carbon exhibits several unusual anisotropic
Anisotropy is the property of being directionally dependent, as opposed to isotropy, which implies identical properties in all directions. It can be defined as a difference, when measured along different axes, in a material's physical or mechanical properties An example of anisotropy is the light...

 properties. It is more thermally conductive
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

 along the cleavage plane than graphite, making it one of the best planar thermal conductors available.

It is also more diamagnetic against the cleavage plane, exhibiting the greatest diamagnetism (by weight) of any room temperature diamagnet. It is even possible to levitate
Magnetic levitation
Magnetic levitation, maglev, or magnetic suspension is a method by which an object is suspended with no support other than magnetic fields...

 reasonably pure and sufficiently ordered samples over rare earth permanent magnets
Neodymium magnet
A neodymium magnet , the most widely-used type of rare-earth magnet, is a permanent magnet made from an alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron to form the Nd2Fe14B tetragonal crystalline structure. Developed in 1982 by General Motors and Sumitomo Special Metals, neodymium magnets are the strongest...



  • It is used nonreinforced for missile
    Though a missile may be any thrown or launched object, it colloquially almost always refers to a self-propelled guided weapon system.-Etymology:The word missile comes from the Latin verb mittere, meaning "to send"...

     nose cone
    Nose cone
    The term nose cone is used to refer to the forwardmost section of a rocket, guided missile or aircraft. The cone is shaped to offer minimum aerodynamic resistance...

    s, and ablative
    Ablation is removal of material from the surface of an object by vaporization, chipping, or other erosive processes. This occurs in spaceflight during ascent and atmospheric reentry, glaciology, medicine, and passive fire protection.-Spaceflight:...

     (boiloff-cooled) rocket motors.
  • In fiber form, it is used to reinforce plastics and metals (see Carbon fiber
    Carbon fiber
    Carbon fiber, alternatively graphite fiber, carbon graphite or CF, is a material consisting of fibers about 5–10 μm in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms. The carbon atoms are bonded together in crystals that are more or less aligned parallel to the long axis of the fiber...

     and Graphite-reinforced plastic).
  • Pebble bed
    Pebble bed reactor
    The pebble bed reactor is a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled, nuclear reactor. It is a type of very high temperature reactor , one of the six classes of nuclear reactors in the Generation IV initiative...

     nuclear reactor
    Nuclear reactor
    A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

    s use a coating of pyrolytic carbon as a neutron moderator
    Neutron moderator
    In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

     for the individual pebbles.
  • Used to coat graphite cuvettes (tubes) in graphite furnace atomic absorption
    Graphite furnace atomic absorption
    Graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry is a type of spectrometry that uses a graphite-coated furnace to vaporize the sample...

     furnaces to decrease heat stress, thus increasing cuvette lifetimes.
  • Pyrolytic carbon is used for several applications in electronic thermal management: thermal interface material, heat spreaders (sheets) and heat sink
    Heat sink
    A heat sink is a term for a component or assembly that transfers heat generated within a solid material to a fluid medium, such as air or a liquid. Examples of heat sinks are the heat exchangers used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems and the radiator in a car...

    s (fins)
  • It is used to fabricate grid structures in some high power vacuum tubes.
  • It is used as a monochromator
    A monochromator is an optical device that transmits a mechanically selectable narrow band of wavelengths of light or other radiation chosen from a wider range of wavelengths available at the input...

     for neutron and x-ray scattering studies.
  • Radial Head Prosthesis
  • It is also used in Automotive industries where a desired amount of friction is required between two components
  • Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite (HOPG) is used as the dispersive element in HOPG spectrometers which are used for X-ray spectrometry.

Biomedical applications

Because blood clots do not easily form on it, it is often advisable to line a blood-contacting prosthesis
In medicine, a prosthesis, prosthetic, or prosthetic limb is an artificial device extension that replaces a missing body part. It is part of the field of biomechatronics, the science of using mechanical devices with human muscle, skeleton, and nervous systems to assist or enhance motor control...

 with this material in order to reduce the risk of thrombosis
Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system. When a blood vessel is injured, the body uses platelets and fibrin to form a blood clot to prevent blood loss...

. For example, it finds use in artificial heart
Artificial heart
An artificial heart is a mechanical device that replaces the heart. Artificial hearts are typically used in order to bridge the time to heart transplantation, or to permanently replace the heart in case transplantation is impossible...

s and artificial heart valve
Artificial heart valve
An artificial heart valve is a device implanted in the heart of a patient with heart valvular disease. When one of the four heart valves malfunctions, the medical choice may be to replace the natural valve with an artificial valve. This requires open-heart surgery.Valves are integral to the normal...

s. Blood vessel
Blood vessel
The blood vessels are the part of the circulatory system that transports blood throughout the body. There are three major types of blood vessels: the arteries, which carry the blood away from the heart; the capillaries, which enable the actual exchange of water and chemicals between the blood and...

In the technical vocabulary of medicine, a stent is an artificial 'tube' inserted into a natural passage/conduit in the body to prevent, or counteract, a disease-induced, localized flow constriction. The term may also refer to a tube used to temporarily hold such a natural conduit open to allow...

s, by contrast, are often lined with a polymer that has heparin
Heparin , also known as unfractionated heparin, a highly sulfated glycosaminoglycan, is widely used as an injectable anticoagulant, and has the highest negative charge density of any known biological molecule...

 as a pendant group, relying on drug action to prevent clotting. This is at least partly because of pyrolytic carbon's brittle
A material is brittle if, when subjected to stress, it breaks without significant deformation . Brittle materials absorb relatively little energy prior to fracture, even those of high strength. Breaking is often accompanied by a snapping sound. Brittle materials include most ceramics and glasses ...

ness and the large amount of permanent deformation
Plasticity (physics)
In physics and materials science, plasticity describes the deformation of a material undergoing non-reversible changes of shape in response to applied forces. For example, a solid piece of metal being bent or pounded into a new shape displays plasticity as permanent changes occur within the...

 which a stent undergoes during expansion.

Pyrolytic carbon is also in medical use to coat anatomically correct orthopaedic implants, a.k.a. replacement joint
Replacement joint
Replacement arthroplasty [from Greek arthron, joint, limb, articulate, + -plassein, to form, mould, forge, feign, make an image of], or joint replacement surgery, is a procedure of orthopedic surgery in which the arthritic or dysfunctional joint surface is replaced with an orthopaedic prosthesis...

s. In this application it is currently marketed under the name "PyroCarbon". These implants have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

 for use in the hand for metacarpophalangeal (knuckle) replacements. They are produced by two companies: Tornier (BioProfile) and Ascension Orthopedics. The FDA has also approved PyroCarbon interphalangeal joint replacements under the Humanitarian Device Exemption
Humanitarian Device Exemption
A Humanitarian Device Exemption is an approval process provided by the United States Food and Drug Administration allowing a medical device to be marketed without requiring evidence of effectiveness...


Biomedical applications