Pyrolytic carbon

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Sheets of pyrolytic carbon

Pyrolytic carbon is a material similar to graphite, but with some covalent bonding between its graphene sheets as a result of imperfections in its production.

Pyrolytic carbon is man-made and is thought not to be found in nature.[1] Generally it is produced by heating a hydrocarbon nearly to its decomposition temperature, and permitting the graphite to crystalize (pyrolysis).

One method is to heat synthetic fibers in a vacuum.

It is used in high temperature applications such as missile nose cones, rocket motors, heat shields, laboratory furnaces, in graphite-reinforced plastic, coating nuclear fuel particles, and in biomedical prostheses.

Physical properties[edit]

Pyrolytic graphite samples usually have a single cleavage plane, similar to mica, because the graphene sheets crystallize in a planar order, as opposed to[clarification needed] pyrolytic carbon, which forms microscopic randomly oriented zones. Because of this, pyrolytic graphite exhibits several unusual anisotropic properties. It is more thermally conductive along the cleavage plane than pyrolytic carbon, making it one of the best planar thermal conductors available.

Pyrolytic graphite forms mosaic crystals with controlled mosaicities up to a few degrees.

Pyrolytic graphite is also more diamagnetic (χ = −4×10−4) against the cleavage plane, exhibiting the greatest diamagnetism (by weight) of any room-temperature diamagnet. In comparison[dubious ], pyrolytic graphite has a relative permeability of 0.9996, whereas bismuth has a relative permeability of 0.9998 (table).

Magnetic levitation[edit]

Pyrolytic graphite levitating over permanent magnets

Few materials can be made to magnetically levitate stably above the magnetic field from a permanent magnet. Although magnetic repulsion is obviously and easily achieved between any two magnets, the shape of the field causes the upper magnet to push off sideways, rather than remaining supported, rendering stable levitation impossible for magnetic objects (see Earnshaw's theorem). Strongly diamagnetic materials, however, can levitate above powerful magnets.

With the easy availability of rare-earth permanent magnets developed in the 1970s and 1980s, the strong diamagnetism of pyrolytic graphite makes it a convenient demonstration material for this effect.

In 2012, a research group in Japan demonstrated that pyrolytic graphite can respond to laser light or sufficiently powerful natural sunlight by spinning or moving in the direction of the field gradient.[2][3] The carbon's magnetic susceptibility weakens upon sufficient illumination, leading to an unbalanced magnetization of the material and movement when using a specific geometry.


Biomedical applications[edit]

Because blood clots do not easily form on it, it is often advisable to line a blood-contacting prosthesis with this material in order to reduce the risk of thrombosis. For example, it finds use in artificial hearts and artificial heart valves. Blood vessel stents, by contrast, are often lined with a polymer that has heparin as a pendant group, relying on drug action to prevent clotting. This is at least partly because of pyrolytic carbon's brittleness and the large amount of permanent deformation, which a stent undergoes during expansion.

Pyrolytic carbon is also in medical use to coat anatomically correct orthopedic implants, a.k.a. replacement joints. In this application it is currently marketed under the name "PyroCarbon". These implants have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the hand for metacarpophalangeal (knuckle) replacements. They are produced by two companies: Tornier (BioProfile) and Ascension Orthopedics.[6] On September 23, 2011, Integra LifeSciences acquired Ascension Orthopedics. The company's pyrolytic carbon implants have been used to treat patients with different forms of osteoarthritis.[7][8] In January 2021, Integra LifeSciences sold its orthopedics company to Smith+Nephew for $240 million.[9]

The FDA has also approved PyroCarbon interphalangeal joint replacements under the Humanitarian Device Exemption.[10]


  1. ^ Ratner, Buddy D. (2004). Pyrolytic carbon. In Biomaterials science: an introduction to materials in medicine. Academic Press. p. 171–180. ISBN 0-12-582463-7. Google Book Search. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  2. ^ Kobayashi, Masayuki; Abe, Jiro (2012-12-26). "Optical Motion Control of Maglev Graphite". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 134 (51): 20593–20596. doi:10.1021/ja310365k. ISSN 0002-7863. PMID 23234502.
  3. ^ Phillip Broadwith (4 January 2013). "Laser guided maglev graphite air hockey". Chemistry World. RSC.
  4. ^ Abdulla, Irfan N.; Molony, Diarmuid C.; Symes, Michael; Cass, Benjamin (May 2015). "Radial head replacement with pyrocarbon prosthesis: early clinical results". ANZ Journal of Surgery. 85 (5): 368–372. doi:10.1111/ans.12908.
  5. ^ Technology, California Institute of (2021-08-28). "New Nanomaterial Resists Projectile Impact Better Than Kevlar". SciTechDaily. Retrieved 2021-10-18.
  6. ^ Cook, Stephen D.; Beckenbaugh, Robert D.; Redondo, Jacqueline; Popich, Laura S.; Klawitter, Jerome J.; Linscheid, Ronald L. (1999). "Long-Term Follow-up of Pyrolytic Carbon Metacarpophalangeal Implants". The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 81 (5): 635–48. doi:10.2106/00004623-199905000-00005. PMID 10360692. Archived from the original on 2009-12-28. Retrieved 2010-11-09.
  7. ^ Barrera-Ochoa, Sergi (September 2014). "Pyrocarbon Interposition (PyroDisk) Implant for Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis: Minimum 5-Year Follow-Up". The Journal of Hand Surgery. 39 (11): 2150–2160. doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2014.07.011. PMID 25218138 – via ResearchGate.
  8. ^ Orbay, Jorge L. (December 2020). "Saddle Hemiarthroplasty for CMC Osteoarthritis". Operative Techniques in Orthopaedics. 30 (4): 100828. doi:10.1016/j.oto.2020.100828. S2CID 226363686.
  9. ^ "Smith + Nephew closes Extremity Orthopedics purchase". MassDevice. 2021-01-04. Retrieved 2021-10-18.
  10. ^ "Ascension PIP: Summary of Safety and Probable Benefit HDE # H010005" (PDF). Food and Drug Administration. 22 March 2002. Retrieved 7 July 2011.