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Graphene: What is it and Why is it Being Hailed as Revolutionary?

What does a futuristic material look like? Well, if you were to ask a physicist, there’s a good chance that they would show you a picture of graphene. Graphene is a relatively new material, founded in the early 2000’s by world-class researchers. It’s thinner than a piece of hair, 150 times stronger than metal, and it’s probably like nothing that you’ve ever seen before.

What is Graphene?

Graphene is semi-metal composed from a single layer of carbon atoms. Its name is derived from graphite, a crystalline allotrope of carbon found in diamonds, charcoal, and pencil lead.  

Carbon itself is an extremely dynamic element, that’s why diamonds can be rock-hard, and pencil lead can be so brittle.

The various outcomes are predicated upon atomic arrangement. Graphene is arranged in a hexagonal lattice which gives the substance unique properties. This arrangement makes graphene one million times thinner than paper, so thin that it’s considered 2-dimensional. It also makes graphene the strongest known material in the world.

A Brief History of Graphene

Researchers have been interested in graphene since 1859, however; most thought that a 2-dimensional material couldn’t exist. As a result, graphene remained an interesting theory and nothing more.  It wasn’t until 2004 that Professor Sir Andre Geim and Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov of the University of Manchester discovered graphene. Initially, the professors were focusing on making a transistor from graphite, but couldn’t obtain the thin flakes needed for the thin graphene layer.

Eventually, the professors employed the “Scotch tape method,” using a piece of tape to peel thin flakes from a chunk of graphite to create a graphene sheet.  The two refined the method until they were able to produce a single layer of carbon atoms.

The Revolutionary Traits of Graphene

Sustainability and Ecological Impact: Graphene is composed of carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the universe; this makes it extremely accessible. It also has minimal effects on the environment relative to other compounds.

Strength: Graphene is one of the strongest materials on earth. Due to its atomic arrangement, the material has tremendous durability and can withstand astronomical amounts of pressure.

Transparency: Graphene only absorbs 2.3% of white light making it transparent without a glare.

Flexibility: The atomic arrangement of graphene also allows it to be flexible. The material can bend and stretch without breaking or becoming damaged.

Conductivity: Graphene is a unique medium that allows electrons to move at abnormal speeds. This makes graphene more efficient than other materials like silicon. In fact, electrons move 200 times faster through graphene than they can through silicon. Graphene also works as a heat conductor, effective independent of temperature.

How Graphene is Transforming Industries

Industries across the board are implementing graphene’s futuristic traits and characteristics. The supercapacitor characteristics found in graphene have been instrumental in the transportation industry, improving car batteries by optimizing the storage and deployment of electricity. These same benefits have been utilized in the renewable energy space through the development of graphene sheets in solar panels. Graphene-enhanced solar panels generate two electrons for every photon of light they receive; this doubles the energy generated from solar photovoltaics.

Flexibility, strength, and transparency are some of the physical traits that have inspired other industries to adopt graphene. In the medical field, graphene’s biocompatibility coupled with its mechanical strength is beneficial for various composite biomaterials. While in the aerospace field the mixture of strength and flexibility have led to lighter, stronger, and more dynamic airplane wings. Graphene is being used in water purification and electronics as well; its possibilities are virtually limitless.

Who’s Using Graphene?

Numerous companies have been created based on the discovery, implementation, and advancement of graphene. Among them is GraphenTech, a graphene-based blockchain company. GraphenTech is developing proprietary technologies that enables them to manufacture graphene on an industrial scale at a competitive price. XG Sciences also produces graphene nanotechnology, but their primary focus is on graphene nanoplatelets: ultrathin carbonic plates that can be used for enhancing the polymeric, metallic composite coating of products.

Some companies like Graphene Nanochem plc are nanotechnology generalist, participating in the commercialization, designs, formulation, and manufacturing of nano-enhanced solutions. Their solutions range from chemical to performance materials with enhanced characteristics. Other companies like Saint Jean Carbon began in the carbon field and have since adopted graphene. Saint Jean Carbon is a carbon science company that focuses on green energy production, green recreation, and energy storage. The company also has an economic interest in lithium and graphite mining claims in Canada. In addition to their primary operations, Saint Jean Carbon has developed graphene batteries and is continuing to expand their reach in the graphene sector.

These are just a few of the companies that are active in the space, but with the increasing interest and adoption of graphene, it’s only a matter of time before we see large corporations and more industries participate in the graphene revolution. Companies that produce the cars we drive, the planes we fly, and the phones we use, will most likely be interested in using graphene in their manufacturing process.

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