GRAPHENE – what it is, characteristics and fields of application

Metals have determined and continue to determine the course of our history since their advent, first with bronze, then iron, more recently with the discovery of aluminium in the 19th century and most recently with that of semiconductors.

GRAPHENE - what it is, characteristics and fields of applicationThese materials have not only allowed us remarkable technological development, but have also determined the geopolitical course of our history through the prevalence of some nations over all others.

In recent years, a new ‘supermaterial’ has come into the limelight that is destined, so it seems, to characterise the current century: graphene.

It  was disconvered by pure chance in 2004 in a laboratory at the University of Manchester by two Russian scientists who emigrated to the UK, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov.

The aim of the future Nobel laureates in physics in 2010 was to obtain as thin a layer of graphite as possible. Equipped with masking tape and a lot of patience, by sticking and unsticking two pieces of tape, they obtained thinner and thinner layers of graphite. By then transferring them onto a sheet of silicon, they managed to remain with a layer of monoatomic carbon, graphene, previously thought impossible.

Its composition is very simple, consisting solely of carbon atoms such as graphite and diamond, but from which it differs in structure: the carbon atoms are arranged, unlike their aforementioned ‘relatives’, along a two-dimensional plane and bound together by countless hexagonal cells in a classic honeycomb structure.

This atomic structure gives it extraordinary technical properties:

  • high mechanical strength, more than 100 times that of steel;
  • electro-conductive and thermo-conductive properties superior to those of copper;
  • very high compressive strength;
  • exceptionally high surface-to-weight ratio (a sheet weighing one gram covers an area equal to that of a football pitch);
  • totally impermeable;
  • completely flexible;
  • can be made optically transparent;
  • biodegradable.

In short, a series of characteristics present in other materials, but which in this case are condensed into one.

Among the many fields of potential application under study, we mention:

  • batteries;
  • transistors;
  • computer chips;
  • power generation;
  • supercapacitors;
  • DNA sequencing;
  • water filters (e.g. water desalination);
  • antennas;
  • touchscreens (for LCD or OLED displays);
  • solar cells;
  • spintronics-related products.

Among the products already avalaible on the market are sports racquets, skis, bicycles, tyre wheels, cycling and motorbike helmets, electronic sensors in the IoT (Internet of Things) sector and in electronics in general, medical devices in the nanomedical field, audiovisuals (headphones, earphones), etc.

The European Union, too, has not been idle and, with funding of €1 billion, set up the Graphene Flagship in 2013, a scientific research initiative that brings together the expertise of around 170 academic and industrial partners from 22 countries with the aim of making a significant contribution to development and innovation aimed at making Europe a worthy competitor in the global market in this field too.

Carlo Caloisi

 

SOURCES AND IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS

  1. What is Graphene?: https://www.graphene-info.com/graphene-introduction ;
  2. Graphene: what it is and how it will change the future: https://www.focus.it/tecnologia/innovazione/tra-scienza-e-tecnologia-grafene-e-futuro ;
  3. Discovery: https://grafene.cnr.it/il-grafene-proprieta-e-applicazioni/la-scoperta/ ;
  4. New materials: the power of graphene: https://www.startupbusiness.it/nuovi-materiali-il-potere-del-grafene-spiegato-da-bedimensional/98749/ ;
  5. Graphene products: introduction and market status: https://www.graphene-info.com/graphene-products ;
  6. Europe’s investment in graphene: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/124617-europes-investment-in-graphene/it ;
  7. Graphene Flagship: https://graphene-flagship.eu/ . 

 

VIDEO

  1. GRAFENE – material of the future: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xDUOqecmRM&ab_channel=Geopop

 

IMAGES (in sequential order)

  1. vectorjuice  from  Freepik ;
  2. seagul from Pixabay ;
  3. Dean Simone from  Pixabay ;
  4. vectorjuice from Freepik .