Materials Spotlight – Graphene

With the 21st century came a new goal: creating lighter materials with more advanced properties. The evolution started with new alloys, continued with polymers, and now composites and ceramics are in the spotlight.

Whenever an engineering requirement for decreased weight arises, one of the first areas of consideration is usually materials technology. The goal is either to improve the properties of an existing material or to develop a more advanced generation of materials instead. One fantastic material which has shown great promise in this new century is graphene!


Graphene – the Holy Grail of materials?

One material, a “Holy Grail” of materials promising an advance on all properties, is graphene. Graphene has been all over the news, and has been a hot topic of scientific research in recent years.

So what is graphene? Although it can be produced in several different forms including sheets, fibers, and ribbons, its most basic form is actually a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms. Unlike most materials that can vary in thickness, graphene is only one atom thick (hence two-dimensional)! Each vertex of the lattice is a single carbon atom.

There are now several processes for producing the material, all of which require it to be bonded to some form of substrate to keep it from curling. The most common processes are exfoliation, where an adhesive tape is used to remove one layer of graphene at a time from the substrate, and carbon nano-tube slicing, where each layer starts as a tiny tube shape and is sliced and flattened out to form the graphene sheet.

In 2010, Andre Geim and Kostaya Novoselovatn earned a Nobel Prize in physics for developing the material. Graphene has been making headlines again due to Nankai university’s research in China, who recently discovered that a graphene spoon can turn light into energy. An efficient clean energy source, with possibly zero maintenance may now be one step closer.

Graphene is actually only 1 atom thick. To give you a precise idea about what this means, a human hair is about 100 million atoms thick. Yet, Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and displays excellent flexibility, and excellent thermal and electrical conductivity.

Becoming the Holy Standard

Whilst this “Holy Grail” of materials may not be as common as we’d wish, due to its costly manufacturing procedures, research is still ongoing to improve production and hopefully make it more affordable.

In fact, the research staff of the university of Glasgow, led by doctor Ravinder Dahiya, is developing a process aiming to decrease the manufacturing cost of Graphene by almost
100 times.

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One major goal held by graphene revolutionaries is to demonstrate its usefulness in prosthetics or energy production. In an attempt to prove the multi-efficiency of graphene, Sandvik Coromant has launched a global challenge that appeals to creative and critical thinkers. The challenge asks them to present concrete ideas on how graphene can improve efficiency of common everyday and household objects

Industries and researchers claim that graphene may have the same impact than iron originally did thousands of years ago.

Graphene may unleash a new technological era in the next few decades, due to its amazing properties, that could revolutionise the world we live in. Once it has made the leap from research to industry, the possibilities for graphene’s application could be endless.



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