What is Graphene?
Graphene is an allotrope of Carbon, which takes the form of a one atom thick layer of carbon atoms tightly packed into a two-dimensional hexagonal lattice. But enough of the structure of it, what is so special about it? Graphene is said to be the strongest material ever measured and is the most conductive material known to man. Many believe this could be a replacement for silicon, which is used as a conductor in most circuitry.
How strong is Graphene then? Tests have shown that Graphene is over 200 times stronger than steel, and that it would take the weight of an elephant exerting a force on an area smaller than a pencil head to break a layer as thin as cling film.
Graphene can also absorb photons with energy at every frequency – photons of different frequencies of light can easily be converted into energy, meaning that using this material in photovoltaic cells would be a much more efficient alternative to the current materials.
What is truly amazing about Graphene is that you can see it. If you were to lay an atom thin layer against a sheet of paper, you can actually see it. It is transparent, and it only absorbs 2.3 percent of light which lands on it, but you can still see it.
So Graphene is the strongest material out there, but its last property is the most surprising. It can stretch up to 20 percent of its length, but is still the strongest material out there. No wonder everyone is describing Graphene as the miracle material.
What can Graphene be used for?
- Transistors which work at a higher frequency
- Lower costs of digital displays on mobile screens
- Storing hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars
- Batteries which can recharge in minutes, instead of hours
- Flexible computer monitors
- Photovoltaic Cells
How is Graphene made?
Chemical Vapour Deposition relies on manipulating temperatures and pressures to deposit carbon onto a copper or nickel substrate, typically from methane or C2H2 gas. Various combinations have been tried: for example, on a thin copper film, at low pressures, growth automatically stops after a single layer of graphene has formed. At atmospheric pressure, the graphene grows in multiple layers.
Growth from a solid carbon source involves depositing a source of carbon on a metal catalyst substrate and using an 800° furnace to grow the graphene across the catalyst. One group is using sugar as its seed material.
What Graphene could be used for in 10 years.
Written by Struan McDonough