“The possibilities of what we can achieve with the materials and knowledge we have, have been blown wide open.”
Anyone who keeps up with science and tech in the news, remembers the buzz Graphene made in the year of its discovery, i.e. 2004 by a physics professor and his student. They were playing around with a block of graphite and some scotch tape in the University of Manchester. Their discovery has completely changed the way engineers and scientists look at the limits of modern science and technology.
What is Graphene?
Graphene is a single layer of Carbon atoms, tightly packed in a hexacomb lattice. Like diamond, graphite and fullerene, it is an allotrope of Carbon with sp2 bonded atoms. Layers of graphene stacked over one another form graphite.
Properties of Graphene
Besides being the lightest compound known to us, it is also one of the thinnest at one atom thick. This can be easily demonstrated by performing the same experiment done by Professor Andre Geim, by rubbing a piece of scotch tape over a block of graphite. The black substance that lingers on the tape is graphene. A barrel of graphene is weighed around 1.7 kg.
It is also one of the strongest (100-300 times stronger than steel) compounds and is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. It is said that one atom sheet of graphene can hold a 4 kg soccer ball easily. It is seemingly the best conductor, with mobility at values of more than 200,000 cm2·V−1·s−1.
All of these properties make Graphene a complete game changer. It can revolutionize anything and everything from biochemistry to electronics, sensors and imaging to telecommunications.
What the future for Graphene looks like
Currently, graphene production is limited because it takes a very expensive and complex process of chemical vapor deposition to produce high quality graphene that can be used for commercial purposes. This method creates a lot of toxic products that are hard to dispose of. However, recent studies suggest cleaner methods of producing graphene, eliminating the toxic products. The scope for production seems to be increasing gradually. There are quite a few investments being made into the market and science of the product and what can be made of it.
Research has been expanded to making wearable electronics that are washable and can be twisted and stretched out. It is made possible by graphene inks that store electrical charge and release it when required. The new textile electronic devices are based on low-cost, sustainable and scalable dyeing of polyester fabric. The inks are produced by standard solution processing techniques.
Graphene is also being used to boost the capacity and charge rate of batteries along with their longevity. Currently, while such materials as silicone are able to store large amounts of energy, that potential amount diminishes drastically on every charge or recharge.
Another use for graphene along similar lines to those mentioned previously is that in paint. Graphene is highly inert and acts as a corrosion barrier between oxygen and water diffusion. This could mean that future vehicles could be made to be corrosion resistant as graphene can be made to be grown onto any metal surface (given the right conditions).
The possibilities with Graphene are truly endless and research is underway to make all of them accessible to the common people. But with any new promise is the problem of time it takes to make it all happen. The same goes for Graphene although the buzz started more than 15 years ago.