By Emily Parkinson
The world is well-versed in the power of disruptive technologies, but what about disruptive metals?
Graphene – the high-grade layered conductive material extracted from graphite – was only discovered back in 2004 but the world’s understanding of this most remarkable and exciting “wonder material” has moved at breakneck speed ever since.
Now South Australian commodity-developer Archer Exploration has confirmed the existence of ultra-pure graphene from graphite deposits at its Campoona mine on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
The company is hopeful the ultra-high purity of graphene extracted from Campoona will allow for a more efficient and scalable resource giving it a strong foothold in the world’s emerging graphene market.
“We now know that from our high-grade graphite deposit we can make pure graphene and - like anything pure – this is extremely rare and difficult to find,” said Archer Exploration chief executive Gerard Anderson. “Its purity is of paramount importance because most of the companies developing technologies using graphene are looking to exploit its conductive properties.”
Heading the research into the initial graphene production at Campoona was Professor Dusan Losic of the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering.
The university will now continue to test the scaling-up process, while also furthering its research into potential applications, including using graphene as a membrane in environmental applications such as separating oil, heavy metals and other pollutants from water.
“Right now the costs of producing graphene is very expensive at around $200 a gram so it is very important to have these high grade deposits to ensure we can develop scalable, low-cost production,” says Professor Losic.
High purity graphene is in high-demand from the world’s leading technology companies, many of whom are developing applications for the conductive material in everything from batteries to solar panels and wastewater treatment.
Anderson says that although the global graphene market is still embryonic, the many potential applications for graphene mean the world’s leading electronic and technology companies will continue to invest heavily in the space.
Graphene is a carbon that has a much better electrical conductivity than copper. Its tensile properties makes it around 260 times stronger than steel and it is regarded as the most conductive material ever discovered.
Ten years ago, the European Commission formed the Graphene Flagship, inviting universities and industry representatives to collaborate on developing the nascent graphene market. So far, five billion euros has been committed to developing applications for graphene – only a handful of which have made it to market.
Tennis racquet manufacturer Head has developed a tennis racquet for Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova using graphene and graphene-enhanced lighbulbs and bicycle tyres are also in development.
The 141-member industry group, which includes multinational electronics and engineering company Bosch and toy manufacturer LEGO, is hopeful of taking graphene’s development from the laboratory stage through to the many commercial applications for which graphene has been slated.
“Imagine one day having a window made of graphene, or house paint with graphene properties such that your whole house can become one entire PV panel,” says Anderson. “Those are the sorts of exciting applications we hope to see for graphene down-the-track.”