Graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms –is set to emerge as the most amazing and versatile substance available to mankind.
Graphene is a single, tightly packed layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice. The single layer makes it ultra-strong and enable it to conduct electricity.
In search of methods to make graphene finally rise up to industrial scale, researchers at Penn State University (PSU), US developed a new method of creating single sheets of graphene without doing any damage to any of element of the materials’ structure.
The discovery, made by a physics professor and his PhD student in a laboratory in Manchester, using a piece of graphite and some Scotch tape has not been yet available for developmental research in commercial uses because of the uneconomical and complex process of creation of high quality graphene. The process of chemical vapour disposition involved the use of toxic chemicals to grow graphene as a monolayer by exposing Platinum, Nickel or Titanium Carbide to ethylene or benzene at high temperatures.
The method reveals a technique that has been overlooked for 150 years.
“There are lots of layered materials similar to graphene with interesting properties, but until now we didn’t know how to chemically pull the solids apart to make single sheets without damaging the layers,” said Thomas E. Mallouk, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Physics, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State.
Researcher Nina Kovtyukhov, a research associate in Mallouk’s laboratory developed the most efficient intercalation method in 1999.
The wonder substance is a full blend of qualities capable enough to revolutionize the world. It is stronger than steel, flexible like rubber, conducts electricity better than copper, battery constituting graphene will provide Incredible Battery Life and is the lightest, thinnest devices ever.
The method, dubbed intercalation has been described in an article published in the journal Nature Chemistry by Mallouk and his colleagues as a technique to employ guest molecules or ions that are inserted between the carbon layers of graphite to pull the single sheets apart.
Mallouk and his team used a strong oxidising agent and a mixture of acids, to open up single layers of solid boron nitride, which is a material similar to graphene. The researchers succeeded in getting all of the layers to open.
Kovtyukhova left out certain agents and also left the damaging oxidizing solution that was earlier reducing the required properties of the material, as this time it was found unnecessary for the process.
“I kept asking [Kovtyukhov] to try it and she kept saying no,” Mallouk said. “Finally, we made a bet, and to make it interesting I gave her odds. If the reaction didn’t work I would owe her $100, and if it did she would owe me $10. I have the ten dollar bill on my wall with a nice Post-it note from Nina complimenting my chemical intuition.”
They believe this process could be used for a number of layered materials.
The next step ahead that Mallouk and colleagues intends to take is to figure out how to increase the rate of reaction in order to scale up production.