Development and application of novel fusion approaches for elemental analysis of carbon-based materials

  • Filipa R. F. Simoes

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Graphite and graphitic materials underpin a number of modern technologies such as electrodes for energy storage and conversion systems. Due to their aromatic honeycomb-type lattice and layered structure, these carbons host a rich variety of foreign elements in their interstices. Whether possessing a tubular morphology - that enables the encapsulation of inorganic compounds, or a planar texture - where anions and molecules can intercalate, the chemical analysis of graphite and graphitic materials is often confronted with the need to disintegrate the carbon matrix to quantify target elements, most often metals. However, the resilience of the sp2-hybridized carbon lattice to chemical attacks is an obstacle to its facile solubilization, a necessary step to perform some of the most common elemental analysis measurements. Over the years, a range of alternative approaches have sprung out to address this issue such as the combustion of the carbon matrix followed by the acid dissolution of its ash product. Unfortunately, none of these represents a viable method that can be applied to batteries, in great part because of the different components that make up the carbon-based electrodes. In this dissertation, a new protocol has been developed to digest graphitic materials aiming to access their elemental composition in bulk scale. The approach is based on the use of molten alkaline salts to promote the oxidation of the carbon lattice and leach out metals into a dilute acid solution. As a model sample, given the existence of standards with a matching matrix, single-walled carbon nanotubes were examined. After being subjected to the alkaline oxidation (a.k.a. fusion), they were solubilized and analyzed with Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy, a widely popular tool for elemental analysis of metals. Structural analysis ensued to understand the interaction of the molten salts with the nanotubes. After evaluating the applicability of the protocol to other carbons, a more complex system was investigated, namely the carbon-based anode of an intercalation-type potassium ion battery. In this process, a direct way to quantify the mass of the alkali metal was discovered, one which makes use of complementary chemical and structural analytical tools.
Date of AwardNov 16 2020
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorPedro M.F.J. Costa (Supervisor)


  • Carbon materials
  • Chemical Analysis
  • borate fusion
  • SS-NMR

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