Although interest has exploded over the past ten years, graphene can trace its history back to the first half of the 20th century with the study of the graphite structure. It wasn’t until two scientists at the University of Manchester successfully isolated the material, subsequently receiving the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, that graphene became considered one of the most versatile materials we’ve ever seen.
What makes graphene so revolutionary? For starters it’s ultra-light, yet immensely tough. It is up to 200 times stronger than steel, yet incredibly flexible. It is transparent and the thinnest material possible, however, it is also an effective barrier that not even helium can pass through.
Graphene deserves the interest and excitement surrounding its unique properties. As expansion in both research and use continues, it seems unlikely for any industry to avoid the disruption of this “super material.” Both corporations and universities have been rushing to study and market graphene’s broad range of applications. Below, we have outlined some of the most transformative.
Graphene is so transparent that 97% of light passes through it. It also can carry heat and electricity more efficiently than either gold or copper. By incorporating graphene into batteries, their energy increases tenfold. This could lead to mobile devices that last longer without charging, and electric cars that outperform gasoline-enabled vehicles.
Scientists have found that the use of graphene transistors can dramatically alter both the speed and size of electronic devices. Computers built with graphene transistors have the potential to be 1,000 times faster than today’s silicon ones. Additionally, while silicon-based transistors have reached their limit regarding size, the use of graphene transistors allows developers to continue shrinking down portable electronics – making them more attractive to consumers.
Because graphene oxide is only permeable to water, it is ideal for desalination (the removal of harmful radioactive isotopes). Perforated graphene filters have proved to easily push seawater through with very little friction. Additionally, the use of a graphene filters is an energy and cost-efficient way to transform sea water into drinking water, which could lead to a huge step in correcting the world’s water crisis.
Bio-sensors are critical components of medical diagnostics and the drug discovery process. The growing bio-sensing field is utilizing graphene for various medical applications including toxicity measuring. The use of graphene enables hyper-sensitive sensors to detect toxins at levels nearly ten times lower than conventional sensors.
INDUSTRIAL SCALE RESINS
A company in Spain successfully created a graphene additive for resins, which is already being used in high-volume industrial applications. The company, Avanzare Innovacion Technologica, produces high performance nanomaterials to be used as additives in composites such as plastics, resins and ceramics. Researchers at Avanzare found that graphene enhances the functionality of the resin, combining graphene’s electrical conductivity and mechanical strength with excellent corrosion resistance.
This new graphene resin can be used for corrosion-resistant tanks and pipes for storage and transport of potentially explosive chemicals – an application that was previously wholly dependent on metallic systems. This is just one example of the multi-functionality of combining resin plus graphene, particularly in the building and construction sectors.
GRAPHENE IN THE MARKETPLACE
While the applications of graphene are vast and the shift from lab to the marketplace has been rapid, it’s still difficult to predict how long it will take before we see some of these revolutionary products. One of the key factors that could slow graphene’s marketability is limited production volume. Regardless of the increasing number of methods to make various forms of graphene, production for each of those methods remain low. Additionally, although the cost of graphene has dropped considerably over the past two years, the initial cost is far more expensive than other traditional materials. Other challenges for graphene in the marketplace include storage and transport, as well as safety and health regulations.
Despite these hurdles, the desire to utilize graphene for novel technologies and innovation is far from waning. Considering the commercialization of a unique material can on average take 20 years, graphene seems to be in a position to beat that deadline. As the number of graphene producing companies and patents continue to grow, so too will discrepancies between predictions and reality.
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