Graphene: ‘Miracle matter’of future

The discovery of graphene in the last decade is a major milestone in human history. It is the world’s thinnest material and comes from graphite, an element most commonly used as a pencil lead. This nanomaterial has the potential to make today’s technologies and devices stronger, faster and better.

Graphene is about 1,00,000 times thinner than a typical sheet of paper. One cannot probably go any thinner than graphene since its mono-atomic thickness is even lesser than a nanometer. Despite this, graphene is a very strong, flexible and stable material as well as an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.

In 2010, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two professors from the University of Manchester, won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of graphene. During their search to discover a product that would be much more valuable than its raw material, they used scotch tape to peel apart graphite shavings until it reached the thickness of a single layer of an atom.

Ever since its discovery, many unbelievable properties of graphene have come to light that have the potential to change the direction of humanity’s lifestyle altogether. It is the strongest material known to man (more than 200 times stronger than steel).

It is also elastic and therefore, stretches to about 20 to 25% of its original length without breaking, since it is only a single atom-thick. This is because each atom of carbon graphene is linked with three other atoms with powerful bonds throughout the entire 2-D honeycomb lattice design of graphene.

Graphene can be mixed with other materials, such as plastic, to attain a product that is not only stronger and tougher but also thinner and lighter

The next property of graphene is that it is an incredible conductor of heat and electricity, so much so that it has started to threaten the vast silicon empire.

Electricity can pass upto 250 times faster through graphene than through silicon. Furthermore, according to Andre Geim, energy transmission rates can go up to 1,000 times more when compared to copper.

Unlike other superconductors, graphene does not need to be cooled down to a low temperature and its conductivity works well at room temperature. On a large scale, the use of graphene can change the way power plants produce and distribute electricity; on a smaller scale, it can bring in a major increase in battery life of any portable gadget such as mobile phones. At present, researchers are trying to find ways to control the flood of electricity as it passes through graphene, so that it can be used in a much practical way.

Novel uses

Graphene technology has already found several novel uses in the energy sector, where it is considered as a priceless, futuristic powerhouse. A new research has shown a huge improvement in lead-acid battery functionalities using graphene nanotechnology — the partial state-of-charge (PSoC) cycle life of these batteries has improved by 1.3 times.

With greater optimisation of graphene and its derivatives, it is expected that the battery can be further modified to show an increment up to 50% in terms of power density.

Graphene is also translucent because of how thin it is. It has the ability to send as much as 97% to 98% of light as compared to a basic window pane through which only 80% to 90% of light can pass. This property paves the way for this material into the world of solar panels, touch screen technology, LCDs, and so on.

Another interesting property of graphene is its ability to stop liquids, besides water, from passing through. Thus, it can keep two substances apart from each other pretty successfully. This gives the material an innovative, special place in the filtration industry. It can be developed and used to make water filtration systems, desalination systems and bio-fuel creation more efficient and economical.  

Experts presume that this material has the potential to find an effective use in many fields including infrastructure, bioengineering, optical electronics, healthcare, ultra-filtration, composite materials, energy storage and nanotechnology.

The price of graphene is quite flexible at this point since not every application needs superior material quality. It is expected that in the coming years, graphene can become even cheaper than silicon as more applications using this magic material will be introduced. This will enable graphene to enter the everyday lifestyle of the masses.

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(The writer is founder, Log 9 Materials)

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Graphene: ‘Miracle matter’of future

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