In his fascinating profile of the scientific minds behind graphene, John Colapino, writing for The New Yorker, concludes that despite its many advantages, the hype surrounding graphene is disproportionate to its actual uses.
Two years later, breakneck innovation at the finest laboratories across the world has resulted in a number of unconventional, potentially world-changing applications for graphene, as chronicled by tech magazine Endgadget.
Of the 72% of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water, only about 3% of it is fit to drink, with the rest taking the form of oceans, brackish lakes, and the like. The problem is compounded when you consider that seawater desalination is too expensive and energy intensive to implement on a wide scale.
But graphene filters are a game-changing innovation. Thanks to their incredibly fine size, measuring 100 nanometers (roughly the width of an atom), water molecules can pass through while salt molecules are trapped, allowing what was once thought impossible: simply filtering seawater to make freshwater.
Faster-charging, longer-lasting batteries
The weaknesses of lithium ion batteries are well-known, from fire risks to decreased battery life. But researcher Han Lin, based at Australia’s Swinburne University, has discovered a way to 3D print graphene batteries which charge more quickly and don’t deteriorate over time.
Rain-powered solar energy
The name might sound like a misnomer, but it’s actually quite simple: Chinese scientists from Yunnan Normal University and Ocean University coated solar cells with graphene, so that when it comes in contact with the natural salts in rainwater, electricity is generated. While efficiency can still be improved, this experiment is an important proof of concept that could bring solar panels to traditionally rainy, cloudy areas.
Commercially-viable, long life lightbulbs
Created by the University of Manchester, where graphene sheets were first unveiled in 2004, researchers coated filaments in graphene for longer-lasting, efficient lifespans. According to the BBC, graphene lightbulbs went on sale late last year, and are said to have a 10% reduction in energy use.
Light, spongy material to clean up oil spills
While cleaning up oil spills has traditionally been a key use of graphene, researchers at China’s Zhejiang University created a lightweight graphene sponge that can reportedly absorb up to 900 times its own weight in oil.
Though paper has been around since 740 C.E., it has always been known as a weak, especially fragile writing material that is susceptible to tearing and water damage, to name a few. Graphene-based paper, however, has ten times the tensile strength of steel, and is recyclable and conductive to boot–ensuring uses across a wide range of industries.
Graphite, the precursor material to graphene, is one of the most common resources in the world today and a versatile material with plenty of dynamic applications.
If you follow my blog, you know how much faith I have in graphene as a wonder material of the future. Recently, I wrote about some other amazing wonder materials, one of which is spider’s silk — a biological material that is at once stronger than steel, environmentally friendly, low-energy and high-information. So, my readers, if silk has so much potential, here’s a question for you: what would happen when you feed graphene to silkworms?
Silkworm silk, for those that don’t know, does not have the same qualities has spider’s silk. But if you feed silkworms graphene, scientists have discovered, something amazing happens: the silk produced takes on the qualities of graphene.
According to CSMonitor, “the experiment yielded a silk that is twice as tough as ordinary silk and can cope with 50 percent more stress. It also conducts electricity, meaning it could be used to produce wearable electronics.”
The scientists accomplished this by dissolving graphene in water and spraying the solution onto mulberry leaves, which were then fed to the silkworms. The implications here are huge because, due to the speed at which silkworms produce, high-strength silk fibers could be produced on a large scale, bringing graphene into the mainstream.
Such fibers could be used to create super-strong, protective clothing, environmentally-friendly electronics, and a range of other products, too.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly how the silkworms are processing the graphene and incorporating it into the silk, so there is still a ways to go in understanding and optimizing this process. Another experiment has found that silkworms can be genetically engineered to produce spider silk. We can only imagine what feeding graphene to those creatures might yield!
I’m constantly amazed at the extraordinary results of experiments with graphene and other wonder materials. And remember, this is only the beginning. If graphene aficionados like myself are right, graphene could change our lives in the same way plastics did. I’ll be watching to see what comes with each development, and advise that you do too!
Graphene’s potential for drug delivery and implant tech has long been noted, but up until now it hasn’t exactly played nicely with human tissue. The ultra-strong, conductive, atom-thick material could utterly transform healthcare… but first, we have to get learn to input it without frying biological material in the process. As wonderful as graphene is, I’m sure that would hurt a heck of a lot.
Scientists recently made a huge step in this regard. You see, the issue before was all about heat — you just can’t put a sheet of graphene against skin cells, send power to it, and expect all to function safely. Teams from teams from MIT and Bejing’s Tsinghua University recently ran a simulation, however, and they think they’ve found a solution: water. You might call it a water sandwich, to be a bit more exact.
What’s a water sandwich, besides a suitable lunch for a model? It’s a thin layer of H2O that surrounds the graphene layer. Varying thickness of this water layer could be used to dissipate heat at different rates, a variation that could be controlled based on the graphene itself.
To their surprise, the heat did not build up before flooding and overheating the cell membrane. Instead, the water crystallized against the chicken-wire patterned graphene sheet and dissipated the heat evenly. The water behaved like a solid material, easing the conductivity from graphene to membrane.
The scientists also identified the critical power the graphene should be applied with to avoid any membrane frying. Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications on September 23.
The ability to control graphene’s heat could be especially useful if and when, in the future, it’s used to target and kill cancer cells. Frying wouldn’t be so bad at all in that case.
According to so-author Zhao Qin, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), “I think graphene provides a very promising candidate for implantable devices….Our calculations can provide knowledge for designing these devices in the future, for specific applications, like sensors, monitors, and other biomedical applications.”
“World wonders” are ancient, massive sights to behold, both natural and manmade. Wonder materials, in contrast, are much newer discoveries, wonderful not for their impressive size, but their qualities and versatility.
I write a lot about graphene on my blog, and for good reason: it’s a material with amazing properties and incredible potential applications. That’s why they call it a wonder material. But I would be remiss not to mention some of the other wonder materials currently in development. These materials are amazing in different ways, and each have impressive applications of their own.
Here are seven wonder materials of the world you should know about. They aren’t as majestic as grand pyramids or canyons, but they are all definitely awesome in their own right:
- Graphene: As you may already know, graphene is a super-light, highly conductive layer of carbon that is both thinner than paper and stronger than steel. Graphene is ideal for flexible devices, body implants, and battery power, not to mention military and healthcare technology.
- Spider Silk: Scientists have long been fascinated with the ridiculous strength of spider webs, but it’s only been recently that they’ve been able to harness it through genetic engineering. Spider silk is a stronger-than-steel, high-information, low-energy, and environmentally friendly material. Though difficult to mass-produce, it could aid in the production of bulletproof vests and artificial limbs.
- Metamaterials: These wonder materials are capable of masking both light and sound, not unlike an invisibility/silence cloak. One metamaterial, fishnet-like in construct, is printed into layered silver and dielectric composite films that effectively mask the visible light spectrum, totally concealing objects from certain angles.
- Shrilk: Take discarded shrimp scales and silk protein, and what do you get? For scientists, it’s shrilk, a wonder material as strong as aluminium but just half the weight. The clear, flexible material is fully biodegradable and would make an excellent substitute for plastic.
- Stanene: Created on a computer and designed from theory, stanene is an insulator on the inside and a conductor on the outside. Atom-thin sheets of it could conduct energy with 100 percent efficiency, and ultimately replace silicon as an abundant and affordable material for computer chips.
- Aerogel: Fully translucent and nearly light as air, the material aerogel is derived from gel with the water replaced with the liquid component replaced by glass. The material has evolved over the years, and thanks to NASA research, may be used to create light, insulated space suits.
7. Black phosphorous: 2D crystal black phosphorus has a wide range of electronic capabilities, in some cases even more so than graphene. Because of its wide bandgap and ability to disperse light, it could be especially useful for nanoelectronics. It’s produced by putting lumps of crystals into liquid and bombarding it with acoustics until thin sheets fall away.
As those that read my blog know already, graphene is called a “wonder material” for a reason. Namely, it’s incredibly thin — 2D, in fact — as well as strong, light, flexible and superconductive. When we talk about graphene we usually talk about its potential in regards to healthcare, military sciences or energy efficiency. The truth is, its application could expand far beyond that. One that’s rarely mentioned? The automotive industry.
On July 22 in Manchester, the birthplace of graphene, the world’s first graphene car was unveiled. The vehicle, which has the material in its bodywork, was manufactured by Briggs Automotive Company in Speke, Liverpool. It’s a race car called the BAC Mono, and spearheaded an exhibit highlighting the technological applications of graphene.
According to James Baker, graphene business director at The University of Manchester, “The graphene car is an excellent example of how graphene can be incorporated into existing products to improve performance.” Graphene, which is just an atom thick and 200 times stronger than steel, would allow for a faster and more protective road vehicle ideal for enhanced performance and efficiency.
The BAC Mono used graphene in the car’s rear wheel arches, which the company developed with the help of firm Haydale Composite Solutions. The graphene parts aren’t offered yet on the production version of the Mono, but carbon fiber wheels are offered, which is not a bad alternative for now.
Graphene has been eyed up by the military for super-fast jet planes, so it’s no surprise the material would have similar benefits for ground vehicles. In 2015, the Spanish supercar startup Spania GTA showcased a prototype for a car called “Spano” with components including graphene, Kevlar, and conventional carbon fiber.
What’s next for graphene in the automotive industry? It’s difficult to say. In theory, it could be used as a coating for impermeable vehicles, or even to construct a whole car. For the everyday person that doesn’t need a fast or impermeable car, it will most likely take the form of lighter, smaller, cheaper car batteries. Thanks in advance, graphene!
It’s like origami. With a little imagination, the possibilities are endless.
With just one look at this video from scientists at Donghua University in China, you will be in awe of the amazing, self-folding properties of graphene. It’s eerie, life-like behaviors — such as walking and grasping – lead researchers from all over the world to think that this could be a breakthrough for future technology.
Graphene is a thin layer of pure carbon – the thinnest known to man at just one atom thick – but it’s incredibly strong and stretchy. It moves by treating sections of graphene paper so it naturally absorbs water vapor from the atmosphere. When the paper is heated, water vapor is released and the paper moves. Even poking it with a diamond tool prompts tiny ribbons of the material to peel away.
According to Jiuke Mu, a doctoral student at Donghua University, he and his team “believe that this self-folding material holds potential for a wide range of applications such as robotics and artificial muscles.” The video shows graphene in the shape of a hand that grasped and lifted another material, similar to a muscle.
Not only that, but walking devices, self-assembling boxes and smart clothing are also possibilities as well. The material could change shape and style in response to body temperature or environmental changes.
Another team of researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland came across the graphene discovery as well. Graham Cross says the sheets could be folded to make sensors and transistors. Such devices could allow for nanoscale electronics and faster computers. This could also help the food industry, as graphene-based sensor on packaging could break if an item’s temperature rose above a certain level.
Unfortunately, it could be awhile until any practical applications can be made with this material. Mu believes there is still room for improvement to be more energy efficient. Additionally, Cross says they need to explore the properties of nanoscale graphene, as they believe the properties change when the graphene is smaller in size.
We’ll just have to wait to see what’s to come. Considering the amazing things that can be done with actual origami, graphene’s folding properties could reach miraculous new depths, out of the art world and into science.
Back in 1965, Intel cofounder Gordon Moore observed that processing power for computers would double every two years for the foreseeable future. This idea turned out to be true, and became known as Moore’s Law, as engineers continually found ways to make the components on computer chips not only smaller, but also faster and cheaper.
When Moore first made this observation, a memory chip could store up to 1,000 bits of information. Today? A memory chip can now store up to 20 billion transistors. Moore’s Law has driven Silicon Valley to incredible tech breakthroughs ever since Intel and Apple ushered in the age of personal computers back in the 70s. Since then, we’ve moved into an age of handheld computers in the form of smartphones—and soon we may even have bendable phones, thanks to graphene.
But is the end of Moore’s Law in sight? And if so, what happens to computer innovation if chip processing can no longer get smaller, faster and cheaper?
Chip technology has already become so advanced that engineers are manipulating materials on the molecular and atomic level. It’s hard to get smaller than an atom, which is why engineers are starting to look beyond silicon for the next game-changer in the world of tech.
The most likely candidate to knock silicon off the chip throne? Graphene, of course. In 2014, IBM built the first successful graphene analog chip that ran 10,000 times faster than a silicone version. Because graphene is just one atom thick and extremely flexible and conductive, it’s a viable alternative to the silicon and copper setup currently used in chip technology. Best of all, it could lead to lower heat production, energy consumption, and lower cost.
Graphene still faces some technological hurdles in becoming a viable semiconductor in computer chips– namely that it has no bandgap in its molecular structure, making it difficult to retain data in addition to sending it at super fast speeds.
For now, IBM believes carbon nanotubes may be a more viable alternative to manufacture direct semiconductors. Graphene, however, has huge potential for photonic computing, or computers powered not by electricity, but by light. Photons can move info much more quickly than electrons, so the future of computers is most likely in optic tech.
Studies have found that using a combination of graphene, silicon and electrodes can produce computer chips capable of swiftly converting light into electrical signals. Such technology will have a huge array of applications in computers and smartphones. Once scientists solve the optic computing puzzle, we can expect to see graphene as a main player in the computer chips of tomorrow.
Just as Moore’s Law provided engineers with more than a half century of computer innovation, graphene promises to usher in the next generation of technological breakthroughs. Just another reason graphene is such a smart material to invest in.
3 More Reasons Graphene is a Smart Investment: Ultrasonic Microphones, Bendy Phones, and the World’s Best Fishing Rod
Graphene has already proved that it’s worth more than its weight in gold with huge innovations in solar power, medical treatments, and a whole lot more. So it comes as no surprise that graphene investments have heated up as a result, with KIC InnoEnergy recently investing over $4 million USD in leading European ultracapacitor manufacturer Skeleton Technologies. Additionally, Graphene 3D Lab Inc. recently signed a research and development agreement with a Fortune 500 company, proving that we’re getting closer to the consumer market phase of graphene’s applications.
Here are three amazing new graphene applications we can look forward to seeing on the market in the near future. Consider it further proof that there couldn’t be a better time to invest in this wonder material.
1. Ultrasonic Microphones
Graphene is the star of the show in the recent development of a microphone 32 times as sensitive as those currently on the market. A research team shared their work in a paper with science journal 2D Materials. One of the paper’s authors, Marko Spasenovic, said, “Given its light weight, high mechanical strength and flexibility, graphene just begs to be used as an acoustic membrane material.”
Microphones typically work like megaphones in reverse: they turn sound into electrical currents. As sound waves pass through a membrane that vibrates and causes a metallic coil to to move back and forth across a magnet, sending the electric current to amplifiers. Nickel is the normal material used to make microphone membranes, but this research team applied graphene to the membranes through a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process. Across a wide range of amplitudes, the graphene microphone was found to have an amazingly superior ability to detect more nuanced sound than nickel predecessors. While this technology is still being developed for commercial applications, graphene is poised to revolutionize the music industry with this breakthrough.
The application of graphene to flexible tech displays has been in the works for a while now, but just this month, the world got its first glimpse of a functional flexible smartphone at a trade show at Nanping International Conventional Center in Chongqing, China. While details have been kept under wraps on the company and its breakthrough technology, we know that the screen gets its impressive flexibility through the use of graphene.
At just one atom thick, graphene’s huge appeal for tech applications comes in its outsized strength, flexibility, thinness, and ability to conduct heat and electricity. In a video from the trade show, we see these properties in action as the smartphone can literally wrap around a wearer’s wrist with a highly responsive touch screen. As companies race to create the first market-ready bendable smartphone, graphene is about to get even hotter as an investment opportunity.
3. Supercharged Fishing Rod
When a world-class fisherman and a former NASA engineer team up to build a better fishing rod, you know the results are going to be impressive. 200 times stronger than steel, graphene was a natural choice for a major upgrade to sport fisher’s main tool. Pro angler Scott Mackenzie teamed up with Gary Savage, who has not only worked on NASA space shields, but also on Formula One racecars. “We have taken the best of everything we have learned in Formula One to create the best fly rod ever made,” said Savage to Tech Times. To create the rod, honeycombed graphene was rolled into tiny tiny tubes, which transform into bonded threads that enable the rod to be super strong while also remaining flexible.
Graphene can stretch up to 20 percent of its length, and is 30 times stronger than Kevlar, making it a win-win for the unique requirements of fishing. From flexing deeply upon casting the line to retaining its strength when reeling in a catch, this is a huge fishing breakthrough that the team believes will revolutionize the sport of salmon fishing. This is not the first time that graphene has been used to revolutionize sports equipment, which is a nascent market with huge potential for innovation.
Among scientists, investors and tech enthusiasts, the hype surrounding graphene shows no signs of stopping. Graphene’s latest application proves yet another way the wonder material could change the world, this time by revolutionizing how we produce and store solar energy.
During the last few decades, solar panels have grown increasingly efficient, but the technology still requires sunlight. Like a baseball game, solar power generation cannot occur without the cooperation of the weather. Or can it?
A team of scientists in Qingdao, China are exploiting graphene’s conductivity to develop a new kind of prototype solar cell. While solar technology that currently exists harnesses energy from the sun, the Chinese scientists’ prototype generates power from an unlikely source: raindrops.
The idea of solar power ‘running’ on rain seems counterintuitive, to say the least. The scientists’ study was actually inspired by previous research they conducted, which demonstrated that electricity can be produced by exposing graphene to salt water. Employing a similar concept in the development of their prototype, the research team applied a coat of liquified graphene to solar cells.
So, where do raindrops fit in? And how do they provide electrical power? On a technical level, precipitation and graphene are an ideal electricity-producing pair. Because raindrops contain positively charged ions — salts like sodium, calcium, and ammonium– rainwater adhered to the graphene surface that was coated onto the solar cells. Along with the electrons, the raindrops from the graphene surface stacked to form two layers. The potential energy difference between the two layers was strong enough to produce voltage and an electrical current. Graphene is extremely conductive, which also helped.
Over the last few decades, solar panels have become increasingly efficient, but they still require an ample supply of sunlight to function. In the not so distant future, Graphene could change that. As Qunwei Tang, the materials scientist who heads the research team in Qingdao, says, “Future solar cells may produce electricity in all weather.” Eliminating solar technology’s reliance on sunlight opens up a lot of possibilities, to say the least.
Solar panels that are capable of working without sunlight—no matter the weather or geographical location—would curtail our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce environmental pollution. If rain could be used as a source of energy, the use of solar power would certainly skyrocket. Moreover, in areas of the world that experience an extended rainy season, accessing this kind of solar power would facilitate development and improvement in the overall quality of life for people who live in those regions.
The Chinese researchers will need to refine their prototype’s design before creating a model that can be put to practical use. It’s unlikely that people will be powering their homes with rain anytime soon. All the same, if and/or when solar technology of this kind does become commercially available, the implications will be tremendous.