It’s the thinnest material known to man—1 million times thinner than a human hair. It’s the world’s first 2D material, and it’s ultra light and transparent. It’s 200 times stronger than steel, but unlike steel, it’s flexible and superconductive—and it could be a game-changer for energy storage.
This material is called graphene—a nanomaterial hailed as a miracle material since it was isolated in 2004 by researchers at The University of Manchester, Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov, who won The Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their experiments with graphene.
Graphene is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb-like structure. Many layers of graphene make up graphite, so chances are that if you’ve drawn with a pencil, you’ve probably made graphene.
Graphene is an excellent conductor of electricity, and one of its potential industrial applications is in energy and energy storage. The material is believed to be able to dramatically increase the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries. Graphene capacitators could also provide power while using much less energy than traditional technology, and it could be potentially used in grid applications by storing solar and wind power, according to The University of Manchester.
What’s tricky about graphene, however, is that scientists, researchers, and industries are struggling to find a cost-effective way to make large commercially viable quantities of the material. Related: Plasma Jet Engines: Is Flying At 20Km Per Second Possible?
In recent years, billions of dollars have been poured into research in the hope that this wonder graphene could be taken out of the laboratory and used in factories for large-scale production at efficient costs.
The latest graphene research breakthrough comes from Sweden, where researchers at the Linköping University have increased the capacity of the material to store an electrical charge by introducing defects into graphene’s perfect surface on silicon carbide.
Researchers studied what happens when defects in the surface of graphene are introduced in a controlled manner.
“An electrochemical process known as ‘anodising’ breaks down the graphene layer such that more edges are created. We measured the properties of anodised graphene and discovered that the capacity of the material to store electricity was quite high,” Linköping University researcher Mikhail Vagin said.
Still, the researchers admit that although their study offers more insights into how graphene could be used, much work is needed to replicate the results on a larger scale.
Research into the properties of graphene is further complicated by the fact that graphene can be produced in several, very different ways, the scientists noted. Related: The Battle For Natural Gas Dominance In Russia
The mechanical exfoliation method, the one which The University of Manchester researchers originally used to isolate graphene for the first time, is using scotch tape to remove layers from bulk graphite. But this process is too slow for industrial use, and very expensive, according to Nature—one micrometer-sized graphene flake could cost more than US$1,000—which makes graphene one of the most expensive materials on Earth, gram for gram.
The method of chemical vapor deposition (CVD), the other most popular way to obtain graphene, cost US$100,000 per square meter (10.76 square feet) some three years ago, but the product often has defects that meddle with its electrical conductive properties.
The cost of making graphene has been reduced to US$10,000-20,000 per square meter now, says Vig Sherrill, whose company General Graphene plans to use a technique that Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) licensed to it, to produce one million square meters of graphene per year before the end of this decade.
Meanwhile, Kansas State University researchers have patented a process for high-yield production of graphene via detonation of carbon-containing material. They hadn’t planned on making graphene, they planned to make aerosol gel, but accidentally made graphene.
“Our process has many positive properties, from the economic feasibility, the possibility for large-scale production and the lack of nasty chemicals,” said Chris Sorensen, a Cortelyou-Rust university distinguished professor of physics, and the lead inventor of the patent.
Like with most other lab tests with graphene, the Kansas State University research team also has work to do to improve graphene quality and bring the wonder material to industrial-level production.
If the energy industry and scientific community find a way to produce large amounts of high-quality graphene at costs low enough to warrant replacing and upgrading existing technology, the superconductive miracle material could be the future of energy storage.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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