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Graphene Ushers in a New Era in Nanotechnology/Delivers Flexibility and Conductivity, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Graphene, a hexagonal lattice of carbon, is the thinnest and strongest material in the world, with some estimating it to be as much as 100 times as strong as steel for a given weight of either material.  In addition, it conducts heat and electricity better than any other material.  In recent experiments, electrons traveled approximately 100 times faster in graphene than in silicon at room temperature.

Graphene represents materials science in its most microscopic form.  It is estimated that one ounce of graphene could cover an area as large as 28 football fields.  Applications will likely include high-speed circuits for computers as well as electrodes for DNA sequencers and other electronic devices.  (Graphene is related to carbon nanotubes; a nanotube is essentially a sheet of grapheme rolled into a cylinder.)  By 2010, researchers at Rensselaer released a study showing graphene (the honeycomb patterned carbon material that stacks to form graphite) nanotubes are even stronger than those made with carbon.

In late 2010, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester for their work on graphene.  Geim and Novoselov have made strides in graphene by spraying sheets of the material with quantum dot-sized crystals of lead sulphide.  The process increases the amount of light absorbed by graphene from 2.7% to more than 50%.  The end result could be faster, stronger transmissions of light or data across a wide spectrum of devices including smart phones, cameras, solar cells, night-vision applications and more.


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The world’s largest industrial laboratories are investing significant effort and expense in graphene research.  For example, at Nokia, researchers are investigating multiple, highly advances uses for graphene, ranging from printable, flexible electronics to advanced batteries.  Nokia’s scientists believe that graphene offers the opportunity to boost wireless device performance while reducing overall costs.  Ultimately, they believe that graphene will enable future wireless devices that are reconfigurable, with the ability to conform to the user’s needs and environment.  Flexible device interfaces may be self-cleaning and powered via solar energy, while delivering haptic screens that enable the user to “feel” a dimensional object pictured on the screen.

In 2014, the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea developed a new technique capable of growing high-quality, single-crystal graphene on silicon wafers.  The graphene can then be peeled off and used for transistors and other devices, while the silicon wafer can be reused again and again in the same process.  The breakthrough is another step towards commercial, large scale production of high quality graphene.

Graphene may also be of use in electric car batteries.  Researchers at South Korea’s Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology are studying the possibility of using graphene in supercapacitors that could hold more energy per kilogram than lithium-ion batteries.

Since graphene is thin, flexible and highly conductive of electricity, it may be the ultimate touchscreen material for smartphones or tablets.  In fact, tablets might become foldable, with the ability to fold compactly into pocket-size units that could be opened up to full-size screens when needed.

In May 2015, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced a new method of large-scale graphene fabrication using chemical vapor deposition.  Graphene is layered between sheets of polymer.  The process enables graphene production in sheets up to two inches square instead of in tiny flakes, making it easier to utilize on a commercial basis in lightbulbs, batteries, self-cleaning coatings and aerospace applications.

Researchers at Cambridge University are working on using flakes of graphene in specialized inks which printers will use to fabricate electronics.  Traditional printers require inks made of silver for electronics, and graphene may be a cheaper alternative, and one that may have additional applications such as disposable biosensors or electrodes for printed batteries.



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