It’s a natural enough question on a site dedicated to evaluating the investment potential of the 21st century’s sister to diamond.
Graphene was first discovered by the Nobel Laureate Professor Andre Geim whilst working at Manchester University. It is a 2D material made from sp2 bonded carbon atoms arranged hexagonally with only one atom depth. The arrangement of atoms allows electrons to move rapidly across the material and the configuration provides the material with a surprising degree of strength.
The material was discovered whilst conducting experiments into carbon transistors with its infancy being in experiments involving graphite and scotch tape. Such inauspicious beginnings, however, conceal the remarkable potential of the miracle material.
Potential uses for graphene include:
- Transistors – Graphene based transistors are faster and more efficient than the standard silicon variety.
- Gas Sensors – Single molecules landing on a sheet of graphene affect its conductivity, making it possible to have sensors with incredible precise detecting capabilities.
- Support systems for Electron Microscopy – Graphene is so thin that it is effectively the world’s best material for use in an electron microscope as it can be easily differentiated from the diffraction patterns produced.
- Coatings – Graphene is resistant to acids and alkalis and could therefore become the single atom thickness coating of the future. A Teflon for the 21st century.
- Storing Hydrogen in fuel cells.
- Sensors for the diagnosis of disease – researchers are working on using graphene along with DNA and fluorescent molecules to diagnose disease.
Other suggestions include its use in the production of ultra-strong but ultra-light aircraft, paper thin touch screens, a replacement for glass and use in microsurgery. Graphene is thought to be one of the strongest materials on earth, with a breaking strength 200 times that of steel; making it an ideal alternative material in the production of lighter, more fuel efficient and ecologically sound vehicles. It also has anti-bacterial qualities and a degree of lightness and flexibility that suggest it could become a replacement for plastic in the food packaging market.
As new uses emerge it is almost certain that the material will become increasingly incorporated into technologies that currently form part of our everyday life. As recently as 2008 graphene was one of the most expensive materials on Earth, with a single, hairs breadth sample costing $100 (about $100,000/cm²). Improvements and scaling in the production technique have greatly reduced this price, making the product a more affordable option for industry. The properties of graphene ensure that it will not be a flash in the pan; graphene is here to stay and therefore investing in this miracle material is a sound financial proposition.
For further information please take the time to watch Introducing Graphene – a short film from Cambridge University.