What is Graphene: The Ultimate Guide

What is Graphene: The Ultimate Guide

Explore graphene's groundbreaking journey, from discovery to revolutionary applications across diverse fields.

Key Takeaways

  • Graphene is a revolutionary, atom-thick carbon material with exceptional strength and conductivity.
  • Its discovery and applications span from electronics to medicine.
  • Graphene's production and future potential are evolving.

In fact, in our ultimate guide to graphene, we'll shed a light on the matters such as production of graphene, and how a single layer of carbon atoms may be stronger than anything. Continue reading to learn more. 

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: What is Graphene?
  • Part 1: History of Graphene
  • Part 2: Properties of Graphene
  • Part 3: Applications of Graphene
  • Part 4: Graphene Production
  • Part 5: Popular Graphene Products & Solutions

What is Graphene?

Graphene is a layer conductor of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, just one atom thick. This unique structure makes it one of the thinnest, strongest, and most conductive materials known. Because of its superior properties, graphene is used in a wide range of fields from electronics to energy storage systems, from medicine to material science, and has a vast potential for applications.

Graphene is formed by stacking layers of graphite on top of each other. While graphite is a natural substance found in many products from pencils to batteries, graphene obtained by separating these layers has extraordinary physical and chemical properties. Isolating a single layer of graphite makes the discovery of this incredible material, namely graphene, possible.

Discover Nanografi's High-quality Graphene Products

Structure of Graphene

The graphene is an allotrope of carbon, that is, a form in which carbon occurs. Other allotropic forms of carbon are graphite or diamond.

Graphene is formed by hexagonal rings of carbon atoms, one of the most important and abundant elements in nature. Each layer of hexagonal graphene ring has a height of approximately one carbon atom and this characteristic, together with the application of very specialized techniques, allows us to obtain extraordinarily thin graphene layers.

The perfect graphene would contain only hexagonal rings although, in reality, pentagonal and heptagonal rings may appear that are considered irregularities and imperfections in the structure of graphene. This structure is the basis of other graphite substances such as fullerenes, carbon nanotubes or graphite itself.

Graphene is the basic elementary unit in 2D to build all the graphite materials of other dimensions. For example, it can be arched in zero-dimensional structures (0D), as is the case with fullerenes, it can be rolled up in 1D structures, giving rise to carbon nanotubes and, finally, it can be stacked successively giving rise to three-dimensional graphite (3D).

According to the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry), the term graphene should be used when talking about "reactions, structural relationships or other properties of individual layers" of carbon. Taking this into account, it is not correct to describe graphene as "layers of graphite" (graphite implies 3 dimensions while graphene implies carbon bonds in two directions), "carbon sheets" and similar concepts. Thus graphene can be defined as an infinitely alternating polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon of six carbon atoms rings, that is, it a flat molecule composed of carbon atoms that form a pattern of hexagonal rings.

Figure 1. Graphene Structure

Part 1: History of Graphene

The 21st century, after the eras of coal and silicon, has been defined as the era of Graphene, considering that graphite, the allotrope of carbon from which Graphene originates, is a poor and abundant material in nature so it can be exploited on an industrial level. The carbon atom is one of the most intriguing elements of the entire periodic table, a brick on which the entire system of organic chemistry is built and above all constitutes the fundamental element of Graphene.

But where does the story begin? Very far away, even from the Middle Ages when graphite was used as a marking tool. In practice, when we rub a graphite sample on a sheet or on another support, very thin layers of material adhere to the support and then remain there. Around 1560, Bernacotti gave the idea of a lead pencil. In 1795, its production on a large scale came into existence. It is logical to think that an object as humble as a pencil may have contributed, in some way, to increase the ability to acquire culture even on the part of the less advantaged social strata that rarely could afford the luxury of buying books.

The history of Graphene is long and peculiar from many points of view, it is curious and partly surprising to see how. Despite the fact that graphite was in our hands for centuries, Graphene was never actually recognized as a material destined to change the entire history of science; this lack of recognition was probably due to the lack of adequate investigation tools. Now we can, with good reason, state that this innovative field of research is the most explored in the world, not only from an experimental point of view but also from a theoretical point of view.

The first work on the band structure of the single graphite plane date back to a period between 1947 and 1958, a time when, however, this material was considered only an academic exercise, because the same researchers believed that it was impossible to obtain strictly two-dimensional system that is simultaneously stable even in the isolated state. Boehm and his colleagues, in 1986, coined the term " graphene" combining the word graphite and a suffix that refers to a particular type of hydrocarbons, i.e. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In 1999, the first free graphite was built and only 5 years later, the history of science changed completely.

In 2004, at the University of Manchester, the scientists Geim and Novoselov, using a graphite sample and a simple adhesive tape discovered the material of the future that is Graphene. From a structural point of view, we can imagine Graphite as a book whose sheets are made of Graphene.

Figure 2. Nanografi's Graphene & Nanotechnology Journey

Discovery of Graphene

The discovery of Graphene is quite recent and, perhaps, for this reason, it is a material still unknown to a large number of people. It was first obtained in 2004 when two professors from the University of Manchester (United Kingdom) had the unusual idea of using adhesive tape (the common Scotch tape) to skin a piece of graphite. Thus they created the first Graphene in history.

This new material, considered the "wonder material" of the 21 st century, is a crystalline allotrope of carbon, a characteristic it shares with diamonds and graphite. All three are made up of carbon atoms joined together in different ways. For example, graphite consists of carbon atoms bonded together in layers of a hexagonal lattice, while Graphene is made up of a single layer of graphite. It might seem like a laboratory curiosity for chemistry enthusiasts. In fact, the potential commercial applications and profit opportunities of Graphene are so great as to overcome even the most fervent imagination. That's why we've put together this brief overview of Graphene, its production, its applications and what it could give us in the future. More than 200 companies and start-ups are involved in research around Graphene. In 2010, it was the subject of nearly 3,000 research papers.

Who Discovered Graphene?

In 2004, at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov successfully isolated graphene, which is a single carbon atom layer from graphite. This revolutionary discovery introduced the material's unique and superior properties to the world. This groundbreaking discovery has awarded the duo the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Andre Geim, a Dutch citizen, was born in 1958 in Sochi, Russia, where he graduated in 1987, at the Institute of Solid State Physics in Chernogolovka. He is currently head of the University of Manchester Center for meso-science and nanotechnology. Geim was also the winner in 2000 of IgNobel, the prize awarded to the "most unlikely" research, for having used magnetic fields to levitate a frog, assisted in this task by Sir Michael Berry, of the University of Bristol, known for his research in the quantum field. For "Le Scienze", Andre Geim illustrated his research in an article, written in collaboration with Kim Philip and published in June 2008.

On the other hand, Konstantin Novoselov has dual citizenship, Russian and British. He was born in 1974 in Nizhny Tagil, Russia. He then specialized at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He is currently working at the University of Manchester.

Understanding Graphene

Before talking about graphene’s structure and properties in detail, let's try to understand graphene as a non-scientist.

Graphene is considered one of the great revolutions of the 21 st century if we talk about new materials. Graphene is so tough that a cat could swing in a graphene hammock, which would weigh less than one of its whiskers. Also, this would be virtually invisible. Discovered in 2004 by Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, Graphene has millions of applications to the real world that will arrive in the coming years.

Graphene is about 200 times stronger than steel and 1000 times lighter than a sheet of paper. The enthusiasm for graphene has been totally unexpected and no one imagined that a sheet of this material could be so thin, such a good conductor of electricity, and so resistant. It is even expected that new qualities will be discovered over time.

Graphene is still in the laboratories and there are companies that manufacture and sell graphene. Large companies are already working with this material, as is the case of Toshiba, which would be using it to cover the cables that we found inside their computers.

Graphene has a plethora of applications in our daily lives. It has flexible touch screens, sensors, and fast data transmission devices by optoelectronics. In China, there is a flexible screen prototype made of graphene and the aviation companies Airbus and Boeing are interested in this material to reinforce the structures of their aircraft.

With treatment, you can get it to only transmit electricity in one direction. Moreover, Graphene has really interesting biological & medical applications, such as a graphene structure to grow artificial organs with stem cells.

Part 2: Properties of Graphene

The features of Graphene are extraordinary. Graphene is a substance with very interesting characteristics, some amazing. These properties together with the abundance of carbon in nature have made graphene earn the name of "material of the future." Some of the most outstanding features of graphene are high thermal conductivity, high electrical conductivity, high elasticity (deformable), high hardness (resistance to being scratched), and high resistance. Graphene is approximately 200 times stronger than steel, similar to diamond resistance, but is much lighter.

Moreover, Graphene is more flexible than carbon fiber but just as light. The ionizing radiation of Graphene does not affect you. Graphene has a low Joule effect (heating when conducting electrons). For the same task, graphene consumes less electricity than silicon. Graphene is capable of generating electricity by exposure to sunlight. Graphene is a virtually transparent material. Graphene is very dense and does not allow helium to pass in gaseous form, however, if it is allowed to enter the water, which, enclosed in a graphene container, it shows an evaporation rate similar to that shown in an open container.

We can’t stop praising the properties of Graphene. Other features still under discussion are the self-cooling capacity described by researchers at the University of Illinois or its ability to self-repair. If a layer of graphene loses some carbon atoms for any reason, the atoms close to the hole left approach and close the hole, this capacity for self-repair could increase the longevity of graphene-manufactured materials, although in a limited way.

Key Points:

  • Extreme Strength
  • Superior Electrical Conductivity
  • Exceptional Thermal Conductivity
  • Single-Atom Thickness
  • High Flexibility
  • Lightweight Nature
  • Transparency
  • Chemical Stability
  • Large Surface Area
  • Biocompatibility

Why Graphene is Important?

Graphene is so important and said to be the "miraculous material" of the 21 st century and its properties have astonished science and the media. Most of the applications proposed for graphene are electronics and computer science. Its electronic features can be used for the manufacture of transistors for high-speed electrical circuits and could ultimately replace silicon in microchips and forever change the future of computers and other devices.

Good graphite is not easy to find and its prices have doubled in recent years. A ton of graphite with a purity of 97% costs about 2,000 dollars. A ton of 99.99% ultrapure graphite costs 20,000. Graphene can be used for anything from composite materials such as carbon fiber today, to electronics. The ways in which graphene can be used are as surprising as their properties. Graphene does not have only one application, it is not even a unique material. Graphene is 'a huge variety of materials'.

The benefits of using graphene for businesses and consumers would be obvious, the devices would be faster and cheaper as well as thinner and more flexible." Theoretically, you could roll up an iPhone and stick it behind your ear like a pencil," Professor James Tour of Rice University told Technology Review magazine.

If graphene is compared with the way plastic is used these days, in the future credit cards could have the same processing power as a current smartphone. "A completely new world of electronic applications can be opened with the transparency, flexibility, and speed of graphene," says Jari Kinaret, Professor of Technology at the Swedish University of Chalmers. In Europe, graphene research will receive an investment of one billion euros from the European Commission in the next 10 years.

The multinational Samsung in collaboration with the Sungkyunkwan University of South Korea is one of the largest investors in graphene research and has developed a 25-inch flexible touch screen with graphene. Companies like IBM are also investigating. IBM has created a 150 gigahertz (GHz) transistor. The fastest comparable silicon device is around 40 GHz. With all the money invested and market expectation, scientists are cautious about how quickly all this potential can come true.

Flexibility & Strength of Graphene

Despite being incredibly thin, graphene is flexible and robust, which opens doors to applications in wearables and aerospace technology.

It is the strongest material known to science, with a tensile strength of up to 130 gigapascals (GPa), which is about 200 times stronger than steel. Graphene is also incredibly flexible, able to stretch up to 20% of its original length without breaking.

The flexibility of graphene is due to its unique molecular structure. The carbon atoms in graphene are bonded together in a hexagonal lattice, which gives the material its strength and stiffness. However, the bonds between the carbon atoms are also relatively weak, which allows the material to bend and deform without breaking.

The strength of graphene is due to the strong covalent bonds between the carbon atoms. These bonds are very difficult to break, which gives graphene its incredible tensile strength. In fact, graphene is so strong that it is considered to be one of the strongest materials in the universe.

Graphene's flexibility, strength, and versatility hold promise for applications ranging from lightweight aerospace materials to innovative sensors, batteries, medical devices, and barrier-based solutions such as flexible electronics, bulletproof armor, sports equipment, medical implants, packaging, and water purification.

Graphene is the material with the highest mechanical strength of all materials known in nature, it is even much stronger than the strongest of steels. This property makes graphene a material that can be very useful in applications where high mechanical strength and low weight are required. The extraordinary strength of graphene gives rise to a lot of applications in different sectors.

Figure 3. Strenght of Graphene

Mechanical Resistance of Graphene

The origin of the great mechanical resistance offered by graphene must be found in covalent bonds type σ that is established between the carbon atoms that make up its crystalline network. The main mechanical properties of a material, such as its breaking stress, its rigidity, fragility, resilience or toughness can be deduced from the stress-strain curve obtained from the tensile test of a sample of material.

As is known, this test consists of subjecting a cylindrical specimen of material to a certain mechanical tension (σ) (force per unit area) in the longitudinal direction to its main axis, until its breakage occurs, then measuring the deformation that originates (ε) in the specimen.

The mechanical resistance values in conventional materials (macroscopic) refer to the force necessary for the breaking of a sample of the material with a given section, and therefore, its units are measured in N/m 2 (Newton/meter2). But such tests cannot be carried out to determine the mechanical properties of materials that are formed in the form of microscopic membranes, such as Graphene.

Graphene is the Strongest, Hardest & Lightest Material

Graphene is the strongest, hardest, and lightest of the materials ever made. In its version with 2 dimensions, graphene is the strongest of materials. However, until now researchers have had difficulty translating this two-dimensional force into a useful three-dimensional material. These two-dimensional materials have exceptional strength and unique electrical properties.

The researchers were able to compress small graphene flakes using a mixture of heat and pressure. This process has produced a very strong and stable structure, whose shape resembles that of some corals. These forms, which have an enormous surface in proportion to their volume, have proven to be extraordinarily strong. Once these 3D structures were created, the researchers then wanted to see how far they were able to push themselves by designing the strongest material that could be produced. To do this, they created a variety of 3D models and subjected them to various tests.  One of the samples showed 5% of the density of the steel and 10 times its strength.

The new results show that robustness is not only a characteristic of two-dimensional materials similar to graphene but also depends on the geometric structure. This suggests that other materials, strong and light like graphene, could be made more resistant with a three-dimensional structure.

How Strong is Graphene Compared to Other Materials?

When talking about the strongest materials, we can find many competitors of Graphene. Let’s discuss the top ten strongest materials in the world.

Diamond is a ceramic material of natural origin made of carbon atoms tightly bonded together in a network. Diamonds are almost impossible to scratch.

On the other hand, Spider Silk has a very high tensile strength. A silk thread can withstand more pull before breaking than steel.

When talking about Carbon, there are many different types of carbon composite materials but they all exhibit great strength properties. They can resist an immense amount of tension and absorb a great deal of force before breaking.

Osmium is another metal which is the strongest element of the platinum family. When it is isolated, osmium is a very hard and extremely dense silver metal.

Moving on, martensitic steels have strength and resistance superior to normal steel but without losing the malleability. Moreover, metallic crystal has a chemical structure that counteracts the inherent fragility of glass but maintains its resistance. It is not very dense and is lighter than steel.

Wurtzite Boron Nitride is very similar to a diamond on a structural level, but 18% harder. While diamonds are produced from carbon under pressure, Wurtzite Boron Nitride (WBN) is born from the heat and pressure produced during volcanic eruptions.

The next strongest element is Lonsdaleíta. With this difficult name, it is known what is possibly the hardest material of natural origin. It is similar to diamond, but 58% harder. Sometimes it forms when meteorites that contain graphite hit the Earth.

In the end, the king of the strongest materials is Graphene. Graphene consists of a single atomic layer of carbon, organized in a honeycomb structure. In its perfect crystalline form, graphene is the strongest material ever measured.

Conductivity of Graphene

Conductivity can be defined as the quality of being able to transfer sound, electric charge or heat. It can also be defined in terms of density, electron mobility, temperature, and other important parameters.

Electrical conductivity refers to charging mobility in an electric field, which increases as the temperature drops. Graphene is a very good conductor of heat and electricity. Observing the unusual movement of electrons in graphene,  researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered a new understanding of the conductivity physics of materials.

The experiments performed have provided an essential understanding of the peculiar behavior of the flow of electrons in graphene, discovering a set of properties that must be taken into account for the design of future nanoelectronics circuits.

Graphene is widely a better conductor than copper, thanks in large part to its two-dimensional structure. In most metals, conductivity is limited by crystalline imperfections, which cause electrons to disperse like billiard balls when they move through the material.

Electrical Conductivity of Graphene

Graphene exhibits incredibly high electrical conductivity surpassing even copper. This makes it a top contender for future electronic devices.

Graphene's high electrical conductivity is due to its unique electronic structure. Graphene is a semimetal, which means that it has both metallic and insulating properties. The metallic properties of graphene are due to the presence of delocalized electrons in the graphene sheet. These delocalized electrons are free to move throughout the graphene sheet, which allows for the rapid conduction of electricity.

The electrical conductivity of graphene can be affected by a number of factors, including the purity of the graphene, the presence of defects, and the environment in which the graphene is used. However, even with these factors taken into account, graphene remains one of the most conductive materials known to man.

Graphene's high electrical conductivity has a number of potential applications in electronics, energy storage, and other fields. For example, graphene could be used to make transistors that are much smaller and faster than current transistors. Graphene could also be used to make flexible electronic devices and sensors.

Thermal Conductivity of Graphene

Graphene exhibits a remarkably high thermal conductivity. This unique characteristic holds the potential to revolutionize the field of thermal insulation materials. 

Thermal conductivity is the ability of a material to transfer heat from one part to another. It is measured in watts per meter per Kelvin (W/m/K). Graphene has a thermal conductivity of up to 5000 W/m/K at room temperature, which is much higher than most other materials.

There are two main reasons for graphene's high thermal conductivity. First, graphene has a very strong covalent bonding structure. This allows heat to be transferred efficiently between the carbon atoms. Second, graphene has a very low phonon scattering rate. This means that phonons, which are the quantum of heat, can travel long distances without colliding with defects or impurities.

Graphene's high thermal conductivity has a number of potential applications. For example, it could be used to develop new thermal management materials for electronic devices. Graphene could also be used to create new types of heat sinks and thermal interface materials.

In addition, graphene's high thermal conductivity could be used to develop new types of sensors and actuators. For example, graphene could be used to create sensors that can detect temperature changes very quickly. Graphene could also be used to create actuators that can be used to control heat flow.

Researchers are still working to understand the fundamental mechanisms behind graphene's high thermal conductivity. However, the potential applications of graphene's thermal properties are vast.

Graphene holds potential for enhanced thermal management in electronics, offering improved materials for heat sinks, thermal interfaces, and novel sensors and actuators for heat flow detection and control across multiple industries.

Transparency

Comparable to glass in transparency, graphene has potential in the development of transparent electronics.

A single sheet of graphene absorbs only about 2.3% of visible light. This means that graphene is nearly transparent to visible light, with a transparency of around 97.7%. This is even more transparent than many other transparent materials, such as glass (around 90% transparent) and plastic (around 92% transparent).

Graphene's transparency is due to its unique electronic structure. Graphene is a zero-bandgap semiconductor, which means that its electrons can move freely throughout the material. This allows graphene to absorb very little light, even at visible wavelengths.

However, the transparency of graphene can be affected by a number of factors, including the thickness of the graphene film, the presence of defects in the graphene film, and the wavelength of light. For example, thicker graphene films are less transparent than thinner graphene films. Additionally, graphene films with defects will absorb more light than graphene films without defects. Finally, graphene is more transparent to longer wavelengths of light than to shorter wavelengths of light.

Despite these factors, graphene has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications that require transparent conductors. For example, graphene could be used to make transparent electrodes for solar cells, touch screens, and other electronic devices. Graphene could also be used to make transparent conductive coatings for windows and other glass surfaces.

Researchers are currently working to develop methods for producing high-quality graphene films with high transparency. As these methods are developed, graphene is expected to play an increasingly important role in a variety of transparent electronic devices.

Graphene can revolutionize transparency in technology by offering efficient electrodes for solar cells, more responsive touch screens, conductive window coatings for energy and temperature control, and thinner, energy-efficient displays.

Graphene Benchmark in Material Science

Graphene vs. Diamond

Diamond consists of pure crystallized carbon and it is very hard. It has an index of 10 on the scale of Mohs hardness (the scale ranges from 1 - 10). The diamond word etymologically means unchanged, which is not new given its very high hardness. While talking about its physical properties, they are among the best of all the stones used to make jewelry.

Diamond consists of carbon, it is the precious stone whose composition is the simplest, other precious stones are all complicated. The diamond sometimes has traces of nitrogen that can go up to 0.20% and a very small proportion of other elements. The diamond crystal would have formed by repetition and stacking in the 3 directions of the space of carbon atoms that could be compared with cubic tetrahedra whose center would concentrate the mass of the atom and in which the 4 vertices would have an electron. Each atom is linked, hooked to others by very strong and very short bonds.

These bonds are covalent, and each center of these atoms is distanced from its neighbor only by a distance of the order of 1.54 angstrom, that is, 0.000.000.154 mm. Since the atomic bonds of the diamond are very short, this partly explains its great hardness.

Graphene, which is also composed of carbon, is a soft mineral. Unlike the diamond, their atoms are quite far from each other. If you compare these two minerals (diamond and graphene), which are both carbon compounds, the result is surprising: one (the graphene) is stronger as compared to a diamond and it is 200 times  stronger than steel. So, we can say that Graphene is stronger than diamond.

Graphene vs. Graphite

Graphene is one of the finest materials in the world, it has only two dimensions and has a thickness of a single atom. It is a layer of graphite, discovered thanks to the pencil lead and scotch rolls. The ductility, strength, elasticity and conductivity make it suitable for making significant scientific innovations. Graphene derives from graphite, the mine of our pencils: it is a two-dimensional material, consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, placed at the vertices of regular hexagons that follow one another on a planar lattice. It has interesting properties that make it a promising candidate for numerous applications.

On the other hand, graphite is a mineral of elementary class, and its specific composition involves a semi metallic element.

Surely you are interested to know what graphite is made of. The composition consists almost exclusively of carbon atoms, and it is, in fact, one of the allotropic forms in which elemental carbon can be presented, together with diamond, fullerene, and others, such as graphene.

It is the most stable form of carbon in standard conditions (or at low pressures and temperatures), so it is used in thermochemistry to define the standard state in which the heat of formation of carbon compounds is measured.

The chemical formula of Graphite is C. It is also polymorph of the chaoïta and the lonsdaleïta. This term has its origin from the Greek γραφειν (graphein) which means to write. The composition of graphite can be considered as the maximum carbon content, being above anthracite, so it can be called meta-anthracite, although it is not normally used as fuel because it is very difficult to ignite it. It is also possible to understand this mineral as a succession of overlapping graphene layers. Thus, we can say that graphene is just a layer of graphite.

Graphene vs. Steel

Steel is an alloy (combination or mixture) of iron (Fe) and carbon (C) provided that the percentage of carbon is less than 2%. This percentage of carbon usually varies between 0.05% and 2% maximum. Other materials such as Cr (Chromium), Ni (Nickel) or Mn (Manganese) are sometimes incorporated into the alloy in order to achieve certain properties and are called alloy steels.

On the other hand, graphene is 200 times stronger than steel. Graphene is a layer of graphite, the carbon crystal with which pencil mines are made. Its extraordinary properties were known in the 40s of the 20th century, but it had not been possible to obtain it. It was only in 2004 that scientists from the University of Manchester succeeded. They were able to "peel" graphite layer by layer and separate the graphene. Of course, they won the Nobel Prize. Why? For those extraordinary properties, study Features of Graphene above. And, based on them, new applications are being investigated. For example, clothes with special thermal capacities, a completely new electronics, faster and more efficient than the current one based on silico published a study, in the automotive and aeronautical industry due to its hardness, generation of living tissue, among many more.

Graphene vs. Carbyne

Carbyne is approximately twice as strong as graphene and carbon nanotubes, which until now were the most resistant materials. Researchers at Rice University  on the properties of carbyne, material that has proven to be stronger than graphene. It also has remarkable electrical properties.

Nowadays it is manufactured in small quantities, so the manufacturing process would have to be greatly improved to make it viable. Carbyne is a structure that consists of carbon atoms joined in double sequential bonds, or alternated between single and triple bonds.

Like graphene, the structure has a single atom of thickness and has the peculiarity of being very flexible, but not stretchable. The researchers also showed that when the carbyne is bent in an arc or circle, the tension between the atoms can alter the so-called banned band. This property could open the doors to a lot of mechanical and electronic uses.

After comparing Graphene with other components, and knowing about its strength, what graphene can do for our protection?

Graphene vs. Bullet

Graphene is a paragon of promises. It is known as the material of the future, one of the thinnest, flexible and strongest in the world, which could revolutionize our world with multiple applications in the mobile phone, telecommunications, chip manufacturing or medical equipment industry. But it is also that this wonderful material could become a harder armor than steel and kevlar, capable of resisting a bullet like a real "terminator."

Graphene is characterized by having a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, it has proven to be the strongest material of the world, measuring the resistance of the sheet being pressed with a diamond tip. But now, the material has proven to be bulletproof, research published in the journal Science.

A team from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst fired tiny spheres of silica in the graphene layers as if it were a micro camping range. The bullets flew at a speed of 6,700 mph, about a third of the speed of a real bullet. The result was shocking. Graphene sheets absorbed the impact twice as well as Kevlar, the most commonly used material in bulletproof vests, and tens of times better than steel.

This opens the door to a new use for graphene. Because it is so thin, light and strong, it could be used to make defensive suits and vests for security forces or military personnel. Now, the key is to achieve that graphene can be manufactured on a large scale without modifying its wonderful characteristics. A good number of companies are chasing it.

Learn how to identify fake graphene

After comparing graphene and other materials, learn how to identify fake graphene.

Part 3: Applications of Graphene

It has been known for a long time that graphene is the material of the future. More precisely, since 2010, when the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to two Russian researchers, Kostya Novoselov and Andre Geim, who, some years before, had succeeded in isolating the thinnest material in the world with the sole aid of a 2-pound scotch roll. Since then, research projects on the material and its possible applications have multiplied all over the world, involving the EU itself, which has earmarked 1 billion euros in the largest European initiative on the subject, Graphene Flagship.

The properties of graphene make it an ideal material for applications in a variety of sectors. For example, graphene can be used in technology, especially in electronics in the manufacturing of integrated circuits. It is assumed that graphene characteristics can make it possible to build processors much faster than current ones.

This speed has already been put into practice in the manufacture of field-effect transistors built with graphene. These transistors also take advantage of the high mobility of carriers with low noise levels presented by graphene.

Among the potential applications of graphene can be cited as the most interesting:

  • Ethanol Distillation: Room temperature distillation for fuel and consumption.
  • Gas Detection: Ultrasensitive graphene-based gas detectors.
  • Optical Modulators: Enhancing light manipulation.
  • Solar Cells: Efficient energy conversion.
  • Graphene Transistors: Pioneering faster electronics.
  • Integrated Circuits: Enhanced speed and efficiency.
  • Electrochromic Devices: Advanced light modulation.
  • Ultra-Fast Battery Charging: Revolutionizing power storage.
  • Transparent Electrodes: For innovative electronic displays.
  • Antibacterial Applications: Novel healthcare solutions.
  • Radioactive Waste Collection: Streamlining decontamination processes.
  • Sports Equipment: Stronger, balanced tools and gear.
  • Ultra-Thin Touchscreens: Flexible, durable displays.
  • Supercapacitors: Potentially replacing traditional batteries.
  • Flash Memory: Faster data storage solutions.
  • Biosensors: Quick, efficient health monitoring.
  • E-Paper: Updateable and reusable digital paper.
  • Audio Technology: Headphones with exceptional sound quality.
  • Aerospace and Armor: Enhanced strength and weight efficiency.
  • Waterproof Coatings: New levels of protection.
  • Bionic Devices: Direct neural integration.
  • Folding Batteries: Innovative energy designs.
  • Tissue Regeneration: Advancements in medical technology.
  • Water Purification: Transforming saltwater into drinking water.

Discover Deeper Understanding of Graphene Uses

Explore the diverse uses and applications of graphene for further insights.


Graphene's Applications and Real-World Use Cases

Graphene in Composites and Coatings

Graphene is a very thin material, but it has great strength which enhances the mechanical strength of the polymer with high thermal and electrical conductivity such as, 15-50 percent increase in mechanical strength is possible by adding a particular quantity of graphene in nylon 66. When graphene is added in silicone rubber, the tensile strength is enhanced by 2 times for the support component. If graphene is added in nitrile-butadiene rubber, its mechanical properties is enhanced by 1 - 5 times. Also in another normal high polymer like PP, PVC, and resin, the properties of graphene are improved greatly. Graphene's superior properties make it a better material than other coatings in many ways.

Use Case: Graphene 3D's New G6-Impact Composites

The American Graphene 3D Lab has announced the development of a new family of composite materials based on a matrix of crystal polystyrene (HIPS) reinforced with carbon fibers and particles. The products will be marketed under the G6-Impact brand both in the form of a filament for 3D printing and in granules for injection molding. The company produces the materials at its New York facility and is already able to supply limited quantities of application development material.

The performance of these carbon-graphene composites promises to be very high. According to the company, the material offers excellent rigidity combined with extraordinary shock and vibration absorption properties, thanks to both the patent formulation and the production process. The new composites would be suitable for applications requiring high resilience, shock absorption and vibration damping on hard surfaces such as sports equipment, robots, power tool handles car components, drones and parts of airplanes or military equipment.

Graphene in Electronics

Graphene is a material that can revolutionize the composition of electronic devices that we know today. Graphene is so important for every electronic device we use every day.

Thanks to its high electrical and thermal conductivity, Graphene can be widely used in  electronics. For example, Transistors, microprocessors and integrated circuits benefit from the mobility of electrons which is particularly high in graphene.

Also for the storage of energy, there may be good developments. The batteries based on graphene, for tablets and other mobile devices, provide performance superior to those current and smaller dimensions because, thanks to its nanometric dimensions, this material can accumulate more energy in smaller spaces.

Use Case: NTNU's Graphene Semiconductors

Semiconductors developed from graphene can change the technology industry in five years. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have developed - and patented - a hybrid material with very interesting properties. These are gallium arsenide nanotubes (GaAs) developed on graphene, which is a layer of highly alloyed carbon atoms arranged in hexagonal order.

According to Professor Helge Weman of NTNU, "The new hybrid material offers excellent optoelectronic properties". He is also the co-founder of CrayoNanoAs, the company created to commercialize the discovery.

The growth of nanowires on graphene occurs with a method called MBE (Molecular Beam Epitaxy). It is a model for a new method of manufacturing semiconductor devices. Among the first future applications, we see solar cells and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Companies like IBM and Samsung are leading the development of graphene to replace silicon in electronics and create new applications, such as flexible touchscreens for smartphones. They no longer have to wait. This invention fits perfectly into their production machinery and allows consumer electronics to be brought to a level where design has no limits.

According to the researchers, thanks to this invention in the future we could have self-powered nanomachines and advanced 3D integrated circuits made on graphene and nanowire semiconductors, which allow us to create smaller and more efficient electronics. Furthermore, there is also a discussion of flexible and self-powered consumer electronics to be included in clothes, notepads and other devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Professor Weman highlights that the semiconductors developed on graphene could become the basis of new types of systems and transform the semiconductor industry using graphene as a preferred substrate for many applications.

Graphene in Electrodes

The use of graphene electrodes could lead to the creation of new energy storage devices suitable for electric vehicles, renewable sources and smart grid applications.

In an article published in the prestigious magazine Nano Letters, researchers from two US companies proposed a new technological solution capable of combining the advantages of electrochemical batteries with those of double-layer capacitors (supercapacitors), so to obtain energy storage systems with high power combined with high energy density.

All the scenarios of the possible development of sustainable mobility and energy supply are closely related to the construction of suitable energy storage devices. Currently, the most promising devices are supercapacitors and lithium batteries.

Both solutions have some disadvantages: while lithium batteries offer high energy density with low power density, supercapacitors, on the contrary, can provide high power density, but with low energy density. Supercapacitors, unlike conventional condensers, are not based on the use of a dielectric material. The electrolyte of the condenser, due to the "double layer" electrical effect, leads to effective charge separation, even if the physical separation of the layers is imperceptible.

In general, supercapacitors offer advantages such as high power density, long life, simple recharging circuits, high safety, and low costs. However, they also have some disadvantages, such as a low amount of energy stored per unit of weight, a high self-discharge and a maximum achievable low voltage.

The lithium-ion battery, on the other hand, can generally be described by three main functional components, namely the anode, the cathode and the electrolyte. The non-aqueous electrolyte is commonly made up of a mixture of organic carbonates and contains lithium ions. The cathode is based on metal oxide and the most common material for the anode is graphite. These batteries have the diffusion of lithium ions between the anode and the cathode, with the possibility of these ions to migrate to or from the anode and the cathode. However, the low solid-surface diffusion limits the maximum power density. To date, there is a strong research activity for the improvement of each of these individual devices, but new approaches to the problem are also being investigated.

Use Case: Supercharging Batteries with Graphene Technology

Recently research activities have focused on how to apply nanotechnologies in order to increase the characteristic power density of lithium-ion batteries. In the research presented by Nanotek Instruments and Angstron Materials, the researchers chose a new approach, using nanostructured graphene as electrode material. In prototype devices made during the research, the nanostructured porous graphene is connected both to the anode and to the cathode, in two distinct blocks separated by a porous membrane, and is immersed in the electrolyte. The current flow is based on the exchange of lithium between the surface of the two nanostructured graphene electrodes. The two graphene surfaces can capture lithium ions quickly and reversibly, through surface adsorption mechanisms and/or surface redox reactions.

The authors of the research carried out experiments using different graphene structures. The study is still in a preliminary phase, but results have been so promising that the hypothesis of a future realization of systems able to reach energy densities of 160 Wh/kg per cell unit is possible. This value is over 30 times higher than that achievable with conventional supercapacitors and is comparable with that of lithium-ion batteries. In addition, these systems can reach power densities of 100 kW/kg per cell unit, 10 times higher than those of traditional supercapacitors and even 100 times greater than lithium-ion batteries.

Graphene in LCD and LED Monitors

Graphene is one of the hopes for the achievement of flexible technology. Although today some designs have been achieved based on traditional materials used in electronics, including some timid commercial appearances, the compound that won the Nobel Prize in Physics to Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov promises much more than it has been until now. Another proof of the possibilities of the material are the prototypes of graphene-based LED screens that have been built in the laboratory.

Use Case: Graphene-Driven LED Screens for Next-Gen Electronics

Researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield have worked together to develop a semi-transparent device composed of  graphene-based LEDs, whose characteristics could be the basis of a future generation of mobile phones, tablets or flexible televisions.

The product resulting from the research is an extremely thin semiconductor (its thickness is between 10 and 40 atoms) that emits light throughout its surface. Scientists have used a combination of graphene with boron nitride and several 2D semiconductors (a structure that also has graphene). The LEDs have been produced at the atomic level.

Graphene-based LED screens are formed by what is called heterostructures. These are the materials resulting from the process of joining different compounds in the form of layers. These heterostructures create a force of attraction for the electrons that give rise to quantum wells, which are used to control the movement of electrons, with which it is possible to favor an exchange that produces photons and emits light. This is the key to the created device to succeed as a screen.

Interesting applications are also those related to lighting, in particular to the realization of LED lamps, more powerful, efficient and durable than the classic ones; a recent discovery conducted by the Graphene Flagship project team also showed, for the first time, the ability of graphene to generate light at the third electrically controllable harmonic: the generation of optical harmonics is a non-linear optical process that creates new colors when a high-intensity laser interacts with a material. In this research, by third-harmonic generation means the production of a light whose frequency is three times that of the incident light. Therefore, starting from the invisible infrared light, intense visible light can be produced.

Graphene in Memories

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon, that is, the property that certain elements have of presenting themselves in different structures, in this case, in a hexagonal tile structure, such as a honeycomb in which each vertex has a carbon atom. Thanks to its properties and the investigations that are being carried out, we are getting to know more applications of this material. In some applications, it could replace or complement silicon as a base material in the world of microelectronics.

Today, electronic devices offer increased storage capacity in a size that is shrinking but, perhaps, current technology is reaching its limits. Precisely, many investigations are exploring new ways to obtain storage systems smaller in size but with a large capacity, for example at the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) the research team, together with Samsung, has developed a new type of  flash memory that uses graphene along with silicon to store information.

The incorporation of graphene to flash memory could greatly extend the use of this type of technology and open the door to devices with large storage capacity (and a more than manageable size). Currently, chip manufacturers have achieved a high level of integration through the miniaturization of memory cells, nano-sized and based on floating gate transistors.

Use Case: UCLA and Samsung's Graphene-Enhanced Memory for Extended Data Retention

This investigation by UCLA and Samsung would open the door to new miniaturization of memories and, therefore, would extend the life of this type of technology a few more years. Researchers are not removing silicon when using graphene, rather they are using graphene as an aid to extend the range of this technology.

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