Graphene is one of the most exciting developments in material science in the last 50 years. Although originally discovered in 1962, when first seen in electron microscopes only while supported by metal surfaces, in 2002 Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov found graphene in a more meaningful sense, which they later won the noble prize for in 2010. They effectively were able to isolate and characterize graphene and find out about its huge benefits that we can all benefit from.
Graphene is an allotrope of carbon that has a single layer of atoms that is arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice. When layered together, then it forms graphene, which is a material that has a number of exciting properties. Graphene itself is the thinnest compound known to man, the strongest compound ever discovered, the best conductor of heat at room temperature and the best conductor of electricity known. Besides this impressive array of properties, it also has a uniform absorption of light across both the visible and near infra-red part of the spectrum, which contributes to its huge potential in future use.
How can we make it?
Originally, it was thought that the only way to make graphene was to grow graphene in a single layer by exposing Platinum, Nickel or Titanium Carbide to ethylene or benzene at high temperatures and getting the graphene off the metal board through chemical vapour decomposition, a complicated, expensive and inefficient process. Nevertheless, in 2012 it was found that graphene could be extracted straight from the metal board, and that the board could be thereafter reused for layer upon layer of graphene, making the process much cheaper and easier. In addition, it was made easier to create high quality graphene too, as chemical vapour decomposition was prone to damaging the graphene when taking it off the metal board, while the newer method of taking it straight off left much higher quality graphene that could actually be used in electronics. Our huge leaps and bounds in graphene development have ultimately left graphene’s quality as a non-factor in our creation of graphene, and instead it is only bounded by cost nowadays.
How can we use it?
Graphene also has many exciting possibilities. First, with graphene, there is now a chance that we could create super-capacitators which could be the biggest leap forward in electronic engineering. Compared to our existing batteries and even the best lithium-ion batteries, laser-inscribed graphene super-capacitators performs just as well in terms of power capacity and efficiency, while also being flexible, light and quick to charge. Furthermore, graphene is also able to increase the longevity of batteries, as while lithium after every use is less and less good at holding charge, graphene can hold charge in the batteries for far longer periods of time (thought to be up to ten times as long as lithium-ion batteries). They also hold roughly the same amount of battery after every charge, while normal lithium-ion batteries store less and less charge after every use. In particular, this makes innovations such as electric cars so much more viable, as with graphene super-capacitators we would be able to have batteries that work far better and that could realistically make electric cars more appealing as they are smaller so you can hold more charge, and do not lose charge as quickly when just left idle. This would also decrease charging times, and make electronic devices be chargeable in seconds or minutes instead of hours, which would further make electric cars an appealing option, as well as just being generally useful to us as a whole, as we use more and more electronic devices from phones to laptops. Second, graphene could help spearhead the push to foldable gadgets, as foldable batteries mean we are more likely to get advances in foldable phones and foldable laptops, or even potentially foldable televisions in the future. Third, graphene is a promising opportunity in the world of telecom photodetectors. This seemingly innocuous technology is actually key to a lot of the way in which we live our lives. It helps with our connectivity, and graphene could be key to helping to speed up data transmission. Graphene is ideal because it absorbs light from a large bandwidth and is an excellent conductor of heat, which reduces heat consumption in graphene-based photodetectors. Consequently, it is incredibly helpful in our optical communications industry.
Graphene is one of the most exciting innovations in the last 50 years, as it opens up a world of possibility. From batteries that could revolutionize the way we travel, to foldable technology that would change the way we live, to the huge increases in data-transmission, it is clear that graphene is not only here to stay, but is also a technology that opens up possibilities that would never even have been dreamed of before.