Back in 2013 we wrote a blog post on the exciting prospect of graphene and since then the material has continued to captivate and minds of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and consumers. Many now anticipate graphene underwriting a new technological revolution.
A carbon allotrope, this two-dimensional material has a unique set of properties which make it suitable for a whole host of potential uses and applications. Since the first graphene sheet was produced and observed by scientists more than a decade ago – many researchers have worked tirelessly to find commercial outlets for the material. As yet though, the so called ‘killer-application’ still eludes experts in the field as well as those who wish to market and sell graphene based products.
Graphene is described differently depending on which expert you consult: an ultra-thin super-material, a semi-metal, a zero-gap semi-conductor – all of these electrifying adjectives have been used to describe graphene. And while not everyone agrees on the proper description, they do agree that graphene is an exciting prospect.
The 2D crystal is a one-atom thick honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms. At an atomic level it is essentially a thin but stable flake of ordinary carbon. Two scientists from the University of Manchester were the first to discover graphene after they used regular adhesive tape to obtain a single-atom sheet from ordinary graphite.
Graphene has a number of physical, electrical, optical, thermal and mechanical properties which make it so exciting as a material. To name but a few of the most exciting properties, graphene is:
This unique and powerful set of properties gives graphene a long list of potential and realised uses. Many of these are technologically inspiring and could lead to countless new developments in various fields. For example, many researchers are trying to develop functional inks and paints which could potentially be transparent and electrified for a whole range of possible applications.
Other possible applications have been suggested in lightweight space crafts, transparent film and other electrical products like transparent touch screens. Our personal favourite development though is in printed circuit boards. Super conductive graphene can be combined with plastics to create highly effective printed circuit boards. Their thin and lightweight properties mean that they can be put inside, or 3D printed on, almost anything.
As with all young technologies though, there are still technological problems to overcome including the most efficient manufacturing process (that doesn’t use scotch tape!). Once the kinks have been ironed out the potential market for graphene products is huge. Some forecasts predict a $390M market by 2024.