Graphene Review – Recent Breakthroughs and Accelerating Innovation

Topics Covered

Graphene – an Overview
The Graphene Patent Race
EU Future Emerging Technology
Manchester University Graphene Institute
Can Graphene Live up to the Hype?

Graphene – an Overview

Although graphene was only discovered in 2004, it has captivated the minds of researchers around the world. This article aims to summarize recent advancements in graphene and what the future may hold for this unique material. 

Structurally, graphene is a one-atom thick planar carbon allotrope. The atoms are arranged into a densely packed, two-dimensional honeycomb lattice structure and is considered to be the thinnest man-made material.

The main reason for the widespread interest in this new material is its wide-ranging, unique properties. Graphene is said to be stronger than diamond, and 100 times stronger than steel. It is more conductive than copper, and only 1% of graphene mixed into plastics could convert the plastics into electrical conductors. Graphene is also as flexible as rubber and almost completely transparent.

These and many other properties facilitate the use of graphene in a wide range of applications in numerous fields. Flexible touchscreens, lighting within walls, enhanced batteries - the myriad of possibilities are almost endless. There is even talk that graphene could possibly replace silicon in electronics.

The Graphene Patent Race

Due to the current excitement surrounding graphene, there is currently somewhat of a global race among researchers, trying to find a breakthrough application for graphene that would revolutionize materials science. 

As of 2012, 7,351 graphene patents and patent applications are in existence, highlighting the commercial importance of this material.

China currently appears to be leading the way in terms of number of patents, with 2,200, with the USA only slightly behind with 1,754. Despite graphene being discovered in the UK, the country is currently lagging behind, with a paltry 54 graphene patent publications.   

South Korean electronic company Samsung currently owns the most number of patents for a single company.

EU Future Emerging Technology

Further highlighting the future importance of graphene, The European Commission has chosen graphene as one of Europe’s first 10-year, €1,000 million Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) flagships.

The aim of the graphene flagship project is to move graphene from the academic laboratories and into the commercial world, thereby boosting economic growth and creating new jobs in Europe.

The Graphene Flagship will be a consortium of 126 academic and industrial research groups in 17 European countries, which will be coordinated by Chalmers University of Technology based in Gothenburg, Sweden. The initial 30-month-budget will be €54 million. Later another 20-30 groups will be added to the consortium.

The project’s areas of focus will be information and communications technology and the physical transport sector, as well as applications in the fields of energy technology and sensors.

Manchester University Graphene Institute

The 'home of graphene', The University of Manchester, is currently beginning work on the 7,600 m2 National Graphene Institute (NGI), which is set to start functioning in 2015. The NGI is being built at a cost of £61m, mainly funded by a £38m grant from the UK government. Apart from being a focal point for world class graphene research, it hopes to generate more job opportunities in the UK.

The University of Manchester has already gained a lot of graphene-related publicity, with two of its academics, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their research into graphene, in which they successfully isolated the material and measured some of its properties.

The University believes that graphene is a revolutionary material that can be widely used in a number of applications such as smartphones and ultrafast broadband. 

Can Graphene Live up to the Hype?

Nobel Prize winner, Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University stated that although the material's features are many and captivating, only the highest-grade graphene can be used to achieve many of the products in is currently being associated with, and that the industrial-scale methods for manufacturing graphene have yet to be established. 

However, Novoselov believes that there are several conceivable applications. Researchers have listed the possibility of creating the following graphene-related products:

  • Flexible electronic screens
  • Optical devices
  • "e-paper"
  • Functional lightweight components
  • Bendable personal communication devices
  • Medical applications such as artificial retinas.

Graphene could also be used to improve solar cells and to enhance the service life of batteries. As graphene is highly sensitive to its environment, it can be used as a sensor with a single device to measure strain, gas, magnetism or pressure.

The thinness of graphene will enable it to be painted and made rust-resistant and used along with advanced composite materials to make them conductive, or impermeable, or stronger.

Some researchers feel that for graphene to override existing technologies, the price and effort of switching to graphene has to be financially rewarding.

Taking into consideration the amount of finance, energy and research effort dedicated exclusively for graphene around the world, the chances of this wonder material becoming a success is plausible.



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