International Scientists Reach Breakthroughs on ‘Wonder Material’ Graphene Production

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Judy Lau
Staff Writer

Research teams in Ireland and Germany are claiming a major breakthrough in manufacturing graphene that could pave the way for mass industrial production of the product.

Graphene is a sheet of carbon that is light and stronger than steel, yet flexible and conductive. These thick sheets of carbon could have many applications in our everyday lives, “from providing the next step in battery technology, biomedical sensors, water filtration, to even photovoltaic cells used in solar panels,” according to The Journal.

Some of the uses of graphene include giving users the ability to quickly charge a cell phone faster than the average battery can, upload files and videos quickly, clump and easily get rid of radioactive waste, clean water to make it safe for consumption, and pave the way for bionic devices to be connected to human neurons.

Although this wonder material is extremely useful, it was originally difficult to produce. Growing carbon sheets took too long, and chemical vapor deposition requires a metal catalyst and additional steps afterward. Other methods, such as using solvents, harmed the electronic properties and produced lower yields of graphene.

However, Ireland researchers had found a way to mix graphite with stabilizing liquids to feed into a high shear mixer, claiming that production “can be achieved in liquid volumes from hundreds of milliliters up to hundreds of liters and beyond,” according to Extreme Tech. This is a huge step for graphene and could open the field up to applications in composite materials or conductive coatings.

Additionally, with the increased production of graphene, scientists are able to further research into the material.

“This shows how industry and academic collaboration can lead to research of the highest calibre, with real commercial applications,” said Professor Jonathan Coleman of AMBER, a materials science centre at Trinity College of Dublin.

According to the Journal, the Irish Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock praised his country’s research team, saying that producing graphene in mass quantities is “something that USA, China, Australia, UK, Germany, and other leading nations have all been striving for and have not yet achieved.”

Similarly, Xinliang Feng and Klaus Mullen’s team at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, used electrodes in various salt solutions to produce layers of graphene, a process called exfoliation. Of the solutions they tested, ammonium sulfate worked the best and produced the highest quality graphene in the fastest time. However, Feng sees that there is potential to increase production to the kilogram scale needed for industrial use, according to Chemical and Engineering News.

Exfoliation is more environmentally friendly than previously used methods for producing graphene and does not require high temperatures, Feng says. According to Chemical and Engineering News, Feng plans to test other electrolytes in hopes of speeding up the process. Individual sheets, although able to be mass produced, are still very small. Producing these on a larger scale still remains difficult.

Scientists are currently looking for an effective, low-cost, and easily integrated method of incorporating graphene into the manufacturing process. Thus, it is possible that Feng’s approach to producing the miracle material will be of great use if it is able to scale effectively. The project is currently a part of the Graphene Flagship, a research initiative created by the European Union and spanning 17 countries with 126 academics.

Judy Lau is a third year majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. She joined The Bottom Line in hopes of improving her writing and broadening her perspectives and soon became the Science and Technology editor, where she covers new research and inventions happening on and off campus. When she is not studying and crying in the library, she eats, sleeps, watches Suits and Pretty Little Liars, and plays with corgis.

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