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Next Generation Graphene

In 2010 Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”

By extracting graphene from graphite, Novoselov and Geim managed to create a new material, graphene, a form of carbon but only one atom thick, making it the strongest and thinnest stable conductor of electricity and heat. It is both transparent and flexible, making it ideal for energy storage applications and new sensor technologies requiring high surface areas. Consumer products such as the Huawei Mate 20 X smartphone utilises graphene, in this instance for heat management, are already on the commercial market but adoption and investment in the material remains slow. In 2017 alone, over 30,000 research papers were published on the properties of graphene and potential applications. Despite this, graphene is simply not yet fulfilling its hypothetical uses.

The explanation could be that the same unique properties of graphene that lend the material to energy storage applications and integrated use in smart electronics make it vulnerable to contamination. A team of researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) led by Dr Dorna Esrafilzadeh and Dr Rouhollah Ali Jalili recently discovered “high levels of silicon contamination in commercially available graphene” were responsible for inconsistent reports of graphene properties and performance. Dr Esrafilzadeh commented that the “level of inconsistency may have stymied the emergence of major industry applications for graphene-based systems. But it’s also preventing the development of regulatory framework governing the implementation of such layered nanomaterials which are destined to become the backbone of next-generation devices.” The team went on to prove that pure uncontaminated graphene could achieve its theoretical capacity by building a supercapacitor which demonstrated how performance doubled with the removal of silicon.

This discovery might finally allow graphene to become the groundbreaking key to next generation electronics it has been hailed as since its conception. Last week, the Centre of Graphene Science at the University of Exeter published their breakthroughs, in the scientific journal Flexible Electronics, integrating graphene into the fabric of material to revolutionise wearable electronic devices. At present, wearable electronics are devices glued to fabric but by coating electronic fibres with lightweight durable components, images can be directly displayed on fabric. Smart textiles may not seem like the next generation of electronics but it is the demonstrable potential and high levels of performance which marks this as an exciting turning point for graphene. The predicted applications such as more powerful computer chips, solar panels, water filters, bio-sensors and even artificial skin just became a little bit more tangible.