July 16, 2010

Graphene, not the stuff in your pencils

Graphene is potentially the new material of the future.

There I said it. I try to avoid that sort of over the top inflation but in this case I feel it may actually be true. I've always had a fascination with carbon based materials and their formation (carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, even lonsdaleite and diamond). I mean carbon is one of the most abundant elements in the universe after Hydrogen, Helium and Oxygen, why not exploit it?

Now why is Graphene important? It's because of Graphene's shape and electrical conductivity has many potential uses, specifically in the field of electrical engineering. Among the potential uses for graphene: single molecule gas detection, electrical conductors and transistors, electrodes, capacitors and biodevices for use in diagnosis and microbial detection. On top of this graphene has been shown to be at least 200 times stronger than steel so may be used as potential building materials as technology advances

Graphene on the molecular level looks like a series of sp2 bonded carbon molecules strung together in a honeycomb shaped crystal lattice...looking a bit like molecular chicken wire. Graphene is really the originator of several materials anyhow, the most notable of course is graphite (used for, among other things, as lubrication and in pencil lead) carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.

The fact that graphene has been used to so many applications now anyhow is impressive given that the substance was only capable of being isolated in 2004. Graphene is found in small amounts in ordinary graphite, though it is incredibly difficult to retrieve given our current level of technology. At the current state, as with most next gen materials, it is not cost efficient at all until newer technologies are developed.

I have to say I am excited by the potential prospects and applications of this new substance. I'm not much for the business side of things, but if i were (and had the money) I'd be investing in company's producing graphene. Given that currently a square centimeter of the stuff costs around 100 million dollars(as of april 2008), one can already tell just how this substance has grown in importance already

That being said, given how the business world works, I wouldn't expect any of this for public use for several years now, I expect industrial usage, particularly to produce and maintain energy to go up significantly in the next decade or so, with personal useage following in the 20-30 years

Thanks for reading


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