Research breakthrough for mass producing thin sheets of carbon (graphene)

November 13 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Technology   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

What happened?
Researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute have developed a process to mass produce atom thick sheets of carbon known as graphene.

[If you roll these sheets up, you form a ‘carbon nanotube’, or break them apart and bind with other compounds to form ‘nanoparticles’. These are the three basic shapes of nanoscale materials. Master these components and the next stage is creating functional mechanical nano-machines!]

Graphene sheets are arguably the strongest possible material in the universe based on bonding properties of all known elements. But what makes them very special is how carbon sheets interact (or don’t interact) with electrons, hydrogen atoms and photons. They have uses as electrodes for solar cells, ‘sandwiches’ for solid hydrogen storage, backpanels for sensors, and as the anode electrode material in lithium batteries and fuel cells.

Why is this important to the future?
Energy components designed at the nanoscale
Before we can apply graphene sheets to commercial applications we must find lower cost methods of mass production. This breakthrough is a significant milestone. According to researcher Matthew Allen “These graphene sheets are by far the largest produced, and the method allows great control over deposition. Chemically converted graphene can now be studied in depth through a variety of electronic tests and microscopic techniques not previously possible.”

What to watch

We are starting to see a clear path to energy related nanotechnology applications. But first we must overcome some common myths of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is a ‘scale’ not a thing (hence, nanoscale). The past fifty years has been shaped by ‘micro’ scale technologies designed at a millionth of the meter (microbiology, microelectronics). The next fifty years will be shaped by the ‘nano’ scale era of science and engineering designed at the billionth of the meter (nanobiology, nanoelectronics). From a materials performance standpoint – micro and nano are night and day different.

Carbon nanotubes were first synthesized in the early 1990s but graphene sheets are less than ten years old. We are still trying to determine performance properties for energy, electronic and optical applications. But having a method for mass production is a a major milestone achievement.

The next step is to continue exploring new nanoscale performance properties that are not possible at the microscale. Graphene sheets hold particular promise for electronics and optical transistors, display screens for flexible electronics, as catalysts to break down harmful emissions, and storing electrons and hydrogen for portable devices and electric cars- powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

UCLA Press release via Eureka News alert

American Chemical Society abstract

Image Credit Vincent Tung, Matthew Allen, Adam Stie
Two overlapping images of the same graphene sheet produced by hydrazine reduction; the top image was produced using atomic force microscopy, while the bottom was produced with scanning electron microscopy. This is the first reported instance of a graphene sheet being large enough for both tests to be run on the same specimen.

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