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Graphene Begins to

Unleash the Real Promise

of Nanomaterials

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms derived

from graphite. But that humble description belies
how truly incredible this substance is.
Graphene is the worlds strongest material; it is 200
times stronger than steel. It is also the worlds
thinnest substance, at one-millionth the width of a
sheet of paper.


Combining these two properties means that, as one

newspaper explained, a square meter of graphene
could be made into a hammock that would be strong
enough to hold a nine-pound cat, while weighing no
more than one of its whiskers.
Graphene is also extremely flexible and stretchable.
It conducts both heat and electricity better than any
known material. It is nearly transparent. It filters

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Today, a wide range of graphene manufacturing technologies have emerged to address specific applications.
Over the coming decade, we expect two or three processes to develop clear cost and quality advantages that will
enable them to dominate the industry.

out every type of gas, while allowing water to flow

through it.
For all these reasons, graphene promises to be a
game-changer in many industries. While most people
are still unaware of what it can do, scientists have
been making slow but steady progress toward the
commercial development of this wonder material

for nearly a century.

In 1916, the structure of graphite was identified,
and 31 years later a researcher named P.R. Walter
theorized about the existence of graphene.1
Not long after that, researchers were able to see single layers of graphene under an electron microscope.

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But there remained no practical way to isolate

graphene and use it commercially.
Then, in 2004, at the University of Manchester, scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov made a
major breakthrough: Working with flakes of bulk
graphite, they used pieces of sticky Scotch tape to
peel off layers at a time, then kept repeating the
process until they were left with a single layer, with
a thickness of just one atom, which they then transferred to a silicon wafer. For this work, Geim and
Novoselov were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in
Now that graphene can be isolated, the only hurdle
that remains to exploiting its infinite potential in
countless applications is that the process to create
just a small amount of graphene is still prohibitively expensive. So today the race is on to find
ways to manufacture graphene cheaply and in large
One method that is being explored involves electrolysis. This approach involves pumping lithium
ions between layers of graphite in order to make it
easier to separate each layer of graphene from the
Another experimental method involves writing
graphene circuitry with ion pens. Scientists from
the University of Florida have developed a new technique for creating graphene patterns on top of silicon carbide. Silicon carbide comprises both silicon
and carbon, but at high temperatures, silicon atoms
will vaporize off the surface, leaving the carbon
atoms to grow into sheets of pure graphene.
The team found that implanting silicon or gold ions
in silicon carbide lowered the temperature at
which graphene formed by approximately 100 degrees Celsius. The team implanted ions only where
graphene layers were desired, and then heated the

silicon carbide to 1,200 degrees Celsius.

Using this technique, the team successfully created
graphene nanoribbons, thin lines of graphene with
nanoscale dimensions.
With further refining, the process, described in the
journal Applied Physics Letters, may be able to encourage selective graphene growth at even lower
Meanwhile, researchers from the Graphene Research Group at Toyohashi University of Technology
reported in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series that they produced graphene by extracting readily available microorganisms from a riverbank near
the campus.4
One of the reasons why production of graphene is so
expensive and time-consuming is that hydrazine is
used in the critical process for achieving chemical reduction of graphene oxide flakes, and hydrazine
vapor is highly toxic.
The team built on research showing that graphene
oxide behaves as a terminal electron acceptor for bacteria, and is reduced by microbial action in the process
of breathing or electron transport. Tests showed that
using microorganisms from the riverbank reduced the
graphene oxide flakes.
The approach offers a low-cost, highly efficient,
and environmentally friendly method for the mass
production of high-quality graphene.
At the same time that these and other approaches
are leading toward the commercialization of conventional graphene, a parallel pursuit is bringing the
concept of artificial graphene closer to reality.
Unlike conventional graphene, which is made up of
carbon atoms, artificial graphene is composed of

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Look at

Welcome to the Graphene Age

silicon. Recently, a team of researchers published findings in the journal Physical Review X
that indicate artificial graphene can be created
from traditional semiconductor materials.5
By working with nanometer-thick semiconductor
crystals, the researchers were able to achieve many
of the same properties as conventional graphene.
As experiments like these bring us closer to the widespread production of graphene, what applications
can we look forward to in the coming years?
Please consider the following forecasts:
First, graphene will enable the commercialization of flexible electronics. Because graphene
retains its strength even when it is stretched, these
new devices will allow for the production of electronic devices that can be folded like paper to fit into
a purse or pocket.
Second, graphene will revolutionize smartphones. Because graphene is both transparent and
the worlds best conductor, it will make possible
amazing advances in touchscreen displays. Not
only will they look better, but unlike glass, they will
be as unbreakable as steel. In addition, graphene
will enable smartphone batteries to recharge in
mere minutes.
Third, graphene will provide a powerful way to
extend Moores Law. By replacing silicon chips
with graphene, engineers will be able to design computers of all sizes that will pack enormous power
into a small space. Because graphene dissipates
heat so efficiently, a composite made of graphene
and copper has been found to cool devices faster
than copper alone. As a result, computers will use
less energy.
Fourth, graphene will extend the life of cars

and other products made from steel and other

metals. Tests published in ACS Nano show that
graphene is highly effective in protecting against
corrosion.6 In fact, copper coated with graphene
corroded seven times slower than bare copper, and
nickel coated with graphene corroded 20 times
slower than bare nickel. A single layer of graphene
protects as well as conventional organic coatings
that are more than five times thicker.
Fifth, graphene will provide a highly effective
filter for purifying wastewater and desalinating seawater. Among graphenes many unique
properties is the fact that it is hydrophobic, meaning that it repels water, and yet narrow capillaries
made from graphene attract water. This unusual
property has attracted intense academic and industrial interest with the intent to develop new
water filtration and desalination technologies.
One-atom-wide graphene capillaries can now be
made easily and cheaply by piling layers of
graphene oxide on top of each other. Two years
ago, University of Manchester researchers discovered that thin membranes made from such multilayer stacks were impermeable to all gases and
vapors, except for water. This means that even helium, the hardest gas to block off, cannot pass
through the membranes, whereas water vapor went
through with no resistance. Now the same team
has tested the effectiveness of the graphene membranes as filters for liquid water. The results,
which appear in the journal Science, show that the
graphene rapidly and accurately filters out all salts
except those that are smaller than nine Angstroms.7
(Ten Angstroms is equivalent to a billionth of a
meter.) The researchers now plan to control the
graphene mesh size and reduce it below nine
Angstroms to filter out even the smallest salts in
seawater. According to Dr. Irina Grigorieva, a coauthor of the study, Our ultimate goal is to make a
filter device that allows a glass of drinkable water
made from seawater after a few minutes of hand

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pumping. We are not there yet but this is no longer

science fiction.

April 2014 Trend #6

Resource List:
1. For a more comprehensive look at graphene, visit
the Graphene Information website at:
Highly Efficient Electrolytic Exfoliation of Graphite
into Graphene Sheets Based on Li Ions IntercalationExpansion-Microexplosion Mechanism, by Hui Huang,
Yang Xia, Xinyong Tao, Jun Du, Junwu Fang, Yongping
Gan, and Wenkui Zhang. 2012 by Royal Society of
Chemistry. All rights reserved.
C2JM00092J - !divAbstract
3. APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS, February 13, 2012, Drawing Graphene Nanoribbons on SiC by Ion Implantation,
by S. Tongay, M. Lemaitre, J. Fridmann, A.F. Hebard, B.P.
Gila, and B.R. Appleton. 2012 by American Institute
of Physics. All rights reserved.
Conference 1, 2012, Microorganism Mediated Synthesis of Reduced Graphene Oxide Films, by Y. Tanizawa,
et al. 2012 by American Institute of Physics. All rights
5. PHYSICAL REVIEW X, January - March 2014, Vol. 4, Iss.
1, Dirac Cones, Topological Edge States, and Nontrivial
Flat Bands in Two-Dimensional Semiconductors with a
Honeycomb Nanogeometry, by E. Kalesaki, C. Delerue,
C. Morais Smith, W. Beugeling, G. Allan, and D. Vanmaekelbergh. 2014 by American Physical Society. All
rights reserved.
6. ACS NANO, February 28, 2012, Graphene: CorrosionInhibiting Coating, by Dhiraj Prasai, Juan Carlos Tuberquia, Robert R. Harl, G. Kane Jennings, and Kirill I.
Bolotin. 2012 by American Chemical Society. All
rights reserved.
7. SCIENCE, February 14, 2014, Precise and Ultrafast
Molecular Sieving Through Graphene Oxide Membranes, by R.K. Joshi, P. Carbone, F.C. Wang, V.G.
Kravets, Y.Su, I.V. Grigorieva, H.A. Wu, A.K. Geim, and
R.R. Nair. 2014 by American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.


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Trends: Volume 11, Number 4. April 2014.

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