First isolated in 2004, graphene is a carbon allotrope with impressive properties. It is the world’s thinnest material – at just a single atom thick – yet it’s 200 times stronger than steel, and it conducts heat and electricity better than copper. Such characteristics are, of course, invaluable in industrial applications.
Unfortunately, graphene faces production obstacles, particularly the price.
Several studies are already ongoing, but a recent report by scientists from Glasgow University gives new hope – they have found a way to produce graphene one hundred times more cheaply using the same inexpensive and readily commercially available copper used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries (which are found in everyday household appliances).
Researchers used copper that is around $1 USD per square meter, impressively low compared to the $115 USD copper used for the traditional method, which also requires specific preparation methods for the copper that adds further costs.
The researchers used a process that is a little similar to the existing process to produce graphene, chemical vapor deposition. However, as previously noted, they instead used commercially-available copper foils, often used as the negative electrodes in lithium-ion batteries, as a surface on which to create high-quality graphene.
This novel approach also offers a great improvement in the electrical and optical performance of the material. Besides improving the fields of electronics and energy, the researchers also pointed out that graphene could help provide an ultraflexible conductive surface for people with prosthetics. This would provide a sensation in a way that is impossible for even the most advanced prosthetics today. Furthermore, as graphene can create a perfect barrier between liquids and gases, it can be used to provide clean potable water, especially in developing countries.