A breakthrough by CSIRO led scientists has made graphene more commercially viable, allowing the worlds strongest material to be manufactured from, amongst other things, waste BBQ oil and soybeans.
Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick. Its thin composition and high-conductivity proves very useful in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices. These highly sought-after properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.
Ever since the material’s discovery in 2004, the major barrier to mass production (and thus commercialisation) has been the high cost of production. Until now, graphene was grown in a highly-controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, long hours of operation at high temperatures, and extensive vacuum processing.
While novel graphene production techniques (such as the application-and-removal of sticky tape to produce thin graphene layers) have been tested, few have been viable.
Now, however, CSIRO scientists have developed a novel “GraphAir” technology which eliminates the need for a highly-controlled environment. The technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural and renewable precursor material (such as soybean oil), making its production faster and simpler.
“This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han, co-author of the paper published today in Nature Communications said.
“Our unique technology is expected to greatly reduce the cost of graphene production and drastically improve the uptake of graphene in new applications.”
“Our GraphAir technology results in good and transformable graphene properties, comparable to graphene made by conventional methods,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Dong Han Seo, co-author of the study.
Soybean oil, when heated, has the useful property of breaking down into a range of carbon building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene. This is also possible with other oils, including those left over from barbecues or cooking.
“We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” Dr Seo added.
CSIRO sees that the potential applications of graphene are vast, and include water filtration and purification, cheaper renewable energy construction, sensors, and personalised healthcare and medicine.
The scientists at CSIRO are looking to reach out to the industry and, with testing and experimentation, find new uses for graphene in:
- Replacing expensive gold or platinum in the photovoltaic layer of solar cells with graphene, enabling cheaper solar panels.
- Prolonging battery life in energy devices through graphene’s excellent chemical stability.
- Anti-corrosion coatings, using graphene as an alternative to toxic materials.