Researchers have made tendril-shaped carbon materials from a toxic weed that is harmful to crops, animals and humans1. Besides being a green way to get rid of the weed, the carbon materials can be used as catalysts in industries that produce drugs and fine chemicals.

Among various carbon-based materials, the tendril-like carbon materials are of interest to researchers for their tunable properties. Current methods for producing such materials require high temperature and complex steps.

Scientists from the Centre for Nano and Material Science, Jain University in Bangalore, University of Delhi in Delhi, Central Electrochemical Research Institute-Madras unit in Chennai and CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Bhavnagar, India, converted the biomass of a toxic weed ( Parthenium hysterophorus ) into tendril-like functional carbon helices using a specific solvent in a low-temperature method.

The researchers, led by Sanna Kotrappanavar Nataraj, then explored the catalytic properties and other industrial applications of these materials. They found that smearing membrane protein cytochrome c on the surface of the carbons improved the catalytic efficiency of the protein by 150%.

A composite film — made by blending the carbon materials with a seaweed biopolymer — showed higher mechanical strength and flexibility than a film made using the biopolymer alone. This indicates that such composite film can be used as fillers for enhancing the mechanical properties of polymer-based films.

The weed-derived carbons are promising biomaterials for biocatalysis and biotechnological applications, Nataraj says.