Researchers from Glasgow University found a cheaper way to mass produce graphene, a thin layer of pure carbon that is stronger than steel.
Led by Dr. Ravinder Dahiya, the team of researchers from the University of Glasgow's School of Engineering, used a method called chemical vapor deposition (CVD), which turns gaseous reactants into a film of graphene. Instead of the usual way of graphene production, they utilized a cheap type of copper commonly used to produce lithium-ion batteries.
"The commercially-available copper we used in our process retails for around one dollar per square meter, compared to around $115 for a similar amount of the copper currently used in graphene production. This more expensive form of copper often required preparation before it can be used, adding further to the cost of the process," Dahiya said.
The wonder material was discovered by Professor Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester in 2004. Graphene is the thinnest material known in the world, but it's 150 times stronger than the equivalent weight of steel. Flexible and pliable like rubber, it could stretch to about 120 percent of its length.
The high cost of graphene production limited the widespread manufacture and industrial adoption of this wonder material, but more industries will likely benefit from cheaper graphene available for mass production.
Being the strongest material in the world, it could be used in various inventions that might emerge in the near future. With its high-quality structure, it could make computers and the internet more efficient with ultra-fast uploads. Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a wireless antenna containing graphene that promotes terabit-per-second transfer speeds.
It can also be used in super-fast charging batteries that can be plugged in for just a few seconds. Scientists from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA used graphene supercapacitors that can charge 100 to 1,000 times faster than standard batteries. These supercapacitors can be easily manufactured and incorporated even in small devices like pacemakers and into bigger ones like smartphones.
High-end unbreakable smartphone touchscreens can also be produced using this pliable and strong material. Touchscreens that use graphene as conductors, if incorporated with plastic instead of glass, can make smartphones so thin they could be folded and then slipped into a pocket. With the material's super strength, touchscreens will never get broken nor shattered again.
Bionic devices can also be manufactured using graphene. Usually implanted in the body's living tissues and since it is resistant to salty ionic solutions, bionic devices could stay inside the body for a longer time, perhaps even a lifetime. Since graphene is also a very potent electrical signal conductor, it could be used to treat spinal cord injury in patients, so they can relearn to use their limbs, hands or feet again. Prosthetics or artificial legs or arms can be moved using this nanotechnology.
Water filters of today cannot filter everything out. By using graphene water filters, even the smallest particles like salt can be separated from water. This could be used in far flung areas where potable water is scarce or not readily available.
Lastly, this wonder material can soak up radioactive wastes. Researchers at Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University found that graphene oxide quickly removes radioactive materials from contaminated water.
Photo: University of Exeter | Flickr