GrapheneThe Wonder Material Every Investor Should Get to Know
For those interested in a material that’s turning the heads of both scientists and investors, we thought we’d take you on a quick tour of graphene. This perpetually reinvented “wonder material” has over 25,000 patent applications worldwide, which is pretty impressive considering it was only discovered just over a decade ago. Graphene came into existence in 2003, when a physicist by the name of Andre Geim produced a material thinner than paper, stronger than diamond, and able to carry a thousand times more electricity than copper.
Geim and his team were able to isolate this material using scotch tape to separate a single layer from a block of graphite, which resulted in a single atom, lattice-like structure, and the smallest portion of graphite ever created. You can learn more about the physics of Geim’s discovery in this detailed article from APS Physics.
The paper that Geim published post-discovery, entitled “Electric field effect in atomically thin carbon films” is one of the most well cited papers in material physics, and for good reason: Graphene has since been used and applied in a variety of ways, and is frequently compared to plastic due to its potential and seemingly limitless versatility. The lack of vacancies and dislocations in the material structure of graphene make it one of the strongest materials discovered to date, at only a fraction of the weight of its “competitors.”
For example, when added to copper and nickel, graphene strengthened them by 180 and 500 times respectively, with only .00004% graphene in the resulting compound material for each. This is promising for lighter and tougher sports equipment—graphene is already being used in tennis racquets—as well as flexible electronics and increasingly strong materials for construction. It’s even being researched for its effectiveness in spinal cord injury treatment, as well as other medical applications.
Graphene’s impressive conductivity also makes it an obvious material for batteries, except for the fact that it has such a small surface area. Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University are currently looking into solving this surface area problem with 3D printing, which would increase the surface area and allow them to create batteries and super-capacitors that could be used to power phones and tablets, or as energy storage systems for solar, wind, and wave energy. 3D printing leads to even more potential applications, beyond graphene’s already impressive problem-solving capabilities.
According to Craig Banks, a professor of electrochemical and nanotechnology at Manchester Metropolitan, “Ideally, we could have the brilliant scenario where you just plug in and go—printing whatever structure you want out of graphene from a machine on your desk.” Young Duck Kim, another scientist working extensively with graphene, recently connected small strips of graphene to electrodes, which were then placed above a substrate and heated by passing light through the filaments. This formed a bright on-chip light, which hadn’t previously been visible at such a small size.
This discovery of the world’s thinnest light bulb creates the potential for many more promising uses for graphene, including thin, flexible, transparent displays, and micro hotplates that can reach thousands of degrees in a matter of seconds. Graphene’s ability to produce a “field effect”—and allow scientists to control its conductivity—was previously a defining characteristic only attributed to silicon. When further compared to silicon, graphene proved to have a mobility (the speed at which an electrical charge flows across a semiconductor) that is 250 times that of silicon. With these traits, graphene could solve the problem of finding a replacement to silicon in technology like computer chips, but again, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Most recently, graphene was discovered to have incredible heat withstanding capabilities, which is promising for the future of many of the electronics we use daily, such as phones and tablets. In most electronic devices currently, heat moves along a plane rather than dissipating between layers, which frequently results in overheating. However, graphene, when produced in a 3-D form called ”white graphene,” rather than in its natural 2-D state, creates a configuration in which heat photons move in multiple directions. Electrical engineers now have the opportunity to move heat through and away from key components in electronics, which means significant cooling opportunities for the devices we use everyday. As graphene’s uses increase, so does the ease of its production.
Caltech’s David Boyd discovered how to produce graphene at room temperature, making its reproduction more efficient and cost-effective. With each exciting new discovery about this wonder material, the future of graphene looks brighter than ever. Graphene is strong, light and plentiful. Graphene has potentially limitless potential for innovating and powering our future technology, from electronics to energy to the supercars and bulletproof armor of tomorrow. This wonder material has so many applications to improve society at large that it’s an essential investment choice for any savvy investor.