Graphene was first isolated during ‘Friday night experiments’ at The University of Manchester when Prof Andre Geim and Prof Kostya Novoselov used sticky tape to repeatedly separate graphite fragments to create flakes just one atom thick. Six years later the researchers were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics for their groundbreaking discovery.
Graphene is a layer of carbon atoms in a single layer bonded together in a hexagonal lattice. It is the thinnest compound known to man at one atom thick, the lightest, the strongest (200 times stronger than steel, but incredibly flexible), the best conductor of heat at room temperature and the best conductor of electricity.
Graphene’s properties make it an ideal material for endless applications. It’s the world’s first 2-dimensional material that conducts electricity and heat, is strong, yet light and flexible and is one million times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair.
See below for examples of the uses and research currently being completed in the exciting Graphene space.
Graphene based nanoplatelets and films used in electronic goods and devices. When added to plastics or resins, the materials become electrically or thermally conductive and less permeable to gases whilst improving the surface strength, for example, protective coatings on smartphones and flexible electronic devices
Graphene can also be used to produce smaller transistors which will miniaturise current technology and to produce faster semiconductors which could replace existing computer chips technology.
Energy storage the use of graphene in Lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors can improve the battery life and reduce battery size.
Graphene can be used to detect harmful air pollution in the home. The graphene-based sensor interacts with carbon dioxide and volatile organic compound gas found in homes to detect concentration by parts-per-billion, as compared to parts-per-million that most sensors can achieve. This technology could also be used by farmers to monitor harmful gases that could impact crops or by the military when detecting chemical warfare agents and explosives.
Using graphene in aircraft could mean that jets could be designed to be larger, fit more passengers and run on less fuel. SAAB have filed a patent detailing a de-icing process using nanoplatelets of graphene mixed in a polymer resin that’s applied to aircrafts. Electricity is then passed through the resin providing heat to the entire aircraft or specific components to melt ice on the aircraft preventing delays.
British scientists have created super-thin flexible graphene sheets, which they believe could be used to create ‘smart wallpaper’ capable of generating electricity from the smallest amounts of light and heat. The technology is still in the early stages, but the team have big ambitions for the future. They see these sheets being embedded in wallpaper and window panes, absorbing waste light and heat from inside and outside the home and converting it to electricity.
Graphene has the potential to not just double the efficiency of solar cells, but also to create an all-weather solar cell. While solar cells harness the energy of the sun, graphene sheets separate the positively charged ions in rain (including sodium, calcium and ammonium) and generate electricity.
A study has shown that microbots (with a graphene oxide outer layer) that are smaller than the width of human hair can be deployed into industrial wastewater to absorb and remove toxic heavy metals.
Graphene sponges are also being developed that can absorb petroleum based products up to 86 times their weight. The potentially lifesaving application of this for marine environments is for use with oil spill cleanups.
Scientists are working on a graphene-based filter that could be used to filter chemicals, viruses or bacteria from a range of liquids. This technology could be used on an industrial scale to purify water, dairy products, wine, or even be applied to the production of pharmaceuticals.
Graphene has been shown to safely interact with neurons in the brain. This has the amazing potential to enable the recovery of sensory functions for paralysed patients, the control of robotic arms for amputee patients and even the potential to control motor disorders.
A graphene-based wearable patch has been designed to monitor glucose levels in a diabetic person’s sweat. It can then trigger the delivery of metformin (a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes).
It is even possible for grapheme to be used in the fight against cancer.
In 2013 HEAD used graphene as a reinforcing element in a tennis racket to increase precision and decrease its weight. In May 2016 an angler and a NASA space shuttle engineer claim to have made the world’s first fishing rod made of graphene.