July 17, 2022

Using Graphene to Advance the World

We are on the cusp of technological and design revolutions that could save the planet. Graphene is a material with physical properties that will allow engineers to develop highly lightweight products with excellent safety and sustainability characteristics.
Lightweight with Superior Strength

Last week we discussed the design approach of lightweighting.  Graphene is one of the key materials that make lightweighting possible.  The physical properties of this material will allow engineers to develop highly lightweight products with superior strength.  The results will allow for more sustainable and safer designs.

"What is important about graphene is the new physics it has delivered." — Andre Geim
The Physical Properties

Graphenea CEO Jesus de la Fuente describes graphene as a tightly bound hexagonal lattice in a single honeycomb layer of carbon atoms.  Stacking these in multiple layers is based on graphite, 100-300 times stronger than steel.  At one atom thick, graphene is the thinnest and lightest material known to man.  Graphene improves batteries' charge rate, capacity, and longevity.  Other applications include all-solid-state graphene-based supercapacitors, radio frequency (RF) flexible electronics, self-powered triboelectric sensors, strain sensors, wearable touch panels, and touchscreens for mobile devices and wristwatches that are robust and flexible.  The evolution of material development is taking electronics to the next level.

New Building Blocks

Researchers in several major global cities are developing new building blocks using graphene for next-level electronics.  Their development, spintronics, transports graphene and two-dimensional (2D) materials to build this form of advanced technology.  Spintronics at the nanoscale is an alternative to nanoelectronics.  The potential outcome is spin-based memories and transistors for phones and tablets - a promising technology in the automotive industry and hard disk drive reading heads for laptops and personal computers.  These leading applications are setting the stage for additional growth.

Expanded Use

Dr. Richard Collins shares that graphene use will exceed $300 million in the next decade, per IDTechEx analysts.  The smartphone industry has purchased the most graphene to date.  Other expected markets include concrete enhancement, lightweight composite structures, lithium-ion batteries, offshore wind turbines, and supercapacitors.  While success is not guaranteed, fundamental understandings of graphene's value are emerging for a wide variety of industry sectors.  In addition, the success in graphene applications has led scientists to explore the development of other 2D materials.

2D Versions

Professors Geim and Novoselov experimented with graphite and sticky tape, which resulted in a single-atom-thick layer's exfoliation, which led to graphene discovery.  Their success resulted in their receipt of the Nobel Prize in 2010.  Exploring opportunities to use this material led to creating 2D versions that are flexible and stretchable with excellent electronic properties.  The success in 2D material using graphene has led to other stanene types for a phase transition to superconductivity.  In addition, the germanium used for the earliest transistors is now replacing silicone for mass production.  Further excitement builds as researchers move from 2D to 3D forms that will significantly expand graphene applications.    

The Evolution to 3D

Research in the Centre for Additive Manufacturing at the University of Nottingham is advancing 3D graphene printing for electronic devices.  They replace single-layer graphene used in 2D metal-semiconductor contact materials with tiny flakes of graphene deposited in inks in multiple layers leading to 3D forms.  The printed layers are an atom thick but centimeters across to control light and electricity with complex devices—the beginning stages of next-level use of this advanced material.

Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels
A More Sustainable Future

We are on the cusp of technological and design revolutions that could save the planet.  Doing so requires a return to traditional values of companies fostering wellbeing in their employees and communities, but we must have a further evolving mindset.  What has been past practice was acceptable when we did not know anything different.  However, we now know that there is a need to alter our former design practices significantly.

Key Takeaway

The content on this topic barely touches on the implications of this advanced material.  The scientific detail level is also minimal, given the highly technical nature of graphene to develop significantly advanced 2D and 3D structures.  Most of us will not work with materials of this type soon.  However, further refinement of processes will emerge as a leading use material in various applications to advance multiple industry sectors.

Next Step

A video describes the many emerging uses of graphene for individuals interested in learning more about this exciting material.  As the price of graphene becomes more cost-effective, there will be an ever-expanding use of the material in a wide range of industries.

My Gratitude

In a slightly different expression of gratitude, we need to give some credit to the person that developed sticky tape, without which single-layer exfoliation could not have been possible.  In 1930, Richard Gurley Drew, a 3M engineer, developed the first transparent sticky tape.  Without this tape, the work of Geim and Novoselov would not have been possible.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will look at the benefits of composite materials in designing more superior products that align with the humanist manufacturing framework.  

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstratgicsustainability.com.

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Cover Image Credit: geralt on Pixabay

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