Top 10 Ways Graphene Will Change Our World
Graphene was conceptualized by scientists decades ago but it wasn’t until 2004 that Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov working at the University of Manchester managed to finally extracted single atom thick crystallites of graphene from graphite. Geim and Novoselov went on to win the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.
So what exactly is graphene? It’s a form of carbon that is just one atom thick. Think of graphite, the stuff that pencil leads are made from, only very, very thin. It is 100 times stronger than steel, in fact it is the strongest material known to man. It is very pliable, extremely good at conducting heat and electricity and almost see-through. It is so light that one cubic inch of graphene could sit on top of a blade of grass. It is so thin that one ounce of it would cover 28 football fields.
For a number of years now we have been hearing about the incredible characteristics of graphene and how it will transform our world. Where is all that at?
10. Radioactive Waste
Graphene oxide has been shown to be extremely effective in removing radioactive waste from water quickly (literally within minutes) and efficiently. The graphene oxide binds with the radionuclides and turns them into solids that can be collected and removed.
This is great news for disaster sites like Fukushima but the application goes much further than that. Mining for rare metals is problematic because of the radioactive components. Environmental and health and safety concerns have put a stop to the mining of rare earth metals in the US and other countries (not China). Rare earth metals are important components of cell phones and if graphene oxide could get the US industry back on its feet that would be huge.
Here’s a great overview of the physical, molecular aspects of graphene.
9. As An Additive
A little bit of graphene can change the properties of things like oil and paints substantially. It’s not as cool as some of the other applications of graphene, but the economic benefits could be just as high.
Simple engine oil with as little as 0.5% graphene added becomes a much better lubricant, protecting the engine and enabling it to work better. A similar amount in marine paint will improve resistance to corrosion and make it difficult for barnacles and other marine life to stick to the vessel, improving fuel efficiency and decreasing maintenance costs.
There are many simple and unglamorous uses for graphene in materials and composites that will have widespread and lasting benefits.
These guys know their micro-nano additives:
8. Graphene Speakers
Last year scientists at UC, Berkeley created a pair of headphones using graphene that were said to produce sound with a quality as good as, or better than Sennheiser headphones. Extrapolate that to the multitude of portable speakers out there and we could be living in a hi fidelity world very soon.
Graphene electrostatic speakers. Absolute gold.
7. Graphene Transistors
Just a few weeks ago Samsung announced that they can now produce graphene transistors that they intend to use in “flexible displays, wearables and other next-generation electronic devices.” Unlike silicon chips that crack quite easily, graphene can stretch by as much as 20% while retaining its conductive capabilities.
Also unlike silicon chips, these graphene transistors are imperious to water. Drop your phone in the pool? No problems. In fact go ahead and take phone calls when you are in the shower.
This is a huge break through and we could see it start to impact the price and capabilities of commercial electronics and memory storage products in the near future.
Here’s the latest on graphene and transistors:
6. Graphene for Desalination Plants
Lockheed Martin have patented a water desalination process using graphene that produces drinking water from sea water. The process uses 100th the power needed to operate existing desalination plants, which are conspicuously high energy guzzlers (very often using coal powered electricity plants). Needing just 1% of the power used by current technology would save the world a lot of carbon emission and the local communities a lot of money.
Many cities in the world are turning to desalination plants to supplement dams and river for household water uses. They currently cost billions of dollars to build, but that is about to get a whole lot cheaper.
The people from MIT have been looking at graphene for filtering water:
5. Graphene Batteries
Work is well advanced on a graphene/carbon nanotube supercapacitor that shows capabilities well beyond those of current lithium batteries. Imagine charging your mobile phone in a few minutes and that single charge lasting for a week. Imagine the same thing for electric cars and everything else that uses a battery.
Not only that, these new wave batteries would be smaller and lighter than the current type of battery and take the form of flexible fibres so ‘batteries’ could be woven into your clothes, charging your portable devices while you are on the move.
Graphene is an abundant and cheap material, unlike lithium, but what makes graphene batteries even more exciting is their longevity. Current rechargeable batteries generally start to lose performance by 1,000 recycles (charge/discharge). The graphene/carbon nanotube supercapacitor was still going strong at 10,000 charge/discharge cycles.
Awesome, awesome possibilities with these batteries.
Want to make your own graphene super capacitor?
4. Graphene Solar Panels
New manufacturing methods have enabled graphene-based photovoltaic cells to be produced far more cheaply than current solar panels, and the efficiency of these cells, while lagging current technology at the moment, is reported to be potentially double that of current technology.
Cheaper is good, but these new photovoltaic cells will also be flexible, opening up all sorts of possibilities for their use. Imagine a newspaper printing press turning out flexible solar panels with the same speed and efficiency it turned out newspapers.
Imagine the roof of your car, your tent, your phone cover all capturing the suns energy and storing it for you. Imagine the glass windows of an office building acting as solar panels and powering the buildings air conditioning.
Imagine this, a mobile phone that takes just a few minutes to fully charge and has a very efficient solar panel for a case. Imagine the same for a car. It’s a given that we won’t need dirty, CO2 emitting, old-fashioned power plants in the future, but it’s also possible that we won’t need any type of power station at all. Super exciting.
This is a top overview of graphene and its use in solar panels.
3. Graphene-Oxide Films
At Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, researchers have created a high-quality grapheme-oxide (GO) film that has better optical characteristics than any other film ever created. This film can be used in “photonics”, an emerging technology that will replace or enhance traditional semiconductors.
Semiconductors are used in just about all electronic devices and the impact of GO film in photonics will particularly impact bandwidth, sensitivity to interference and energy consumption in telecommunications.
What does that mean for us? How about downloading an entire film in just a few seconds? Nothing would be impossible.
Graphene LED film:
2. Graphene Nano Engines
Researchers in Singapore have created a ‘nano engine’ based on graphene. When a laser is fired at graphene the graphene instantly blisters when it is attached to the right backing material. The graphene returns to its natural state when the laser is turned off. This on and off blister acts in the same way a piston does in a conventional internal combustion engine.
The size of the blister can be controlled by the strength of the laser so the ‘power’ of the nano engine can be controlled in the same way an accelerator controls a car engine.
Nano technology has enormous potential in all sorts of applications and a graphene powered nano engine could be the thing that brings many of these applications to life. Imagine nano-bots that live in our clothes constantly cleaning them, that scrape away layers of plaque that block our arteries, that regulate our blood sugar, that fix leaks in everything from car engines to swimming pools or that clean our teeth for us.
How about nano-bots that can find and destroy cancer cells. We’re not there yet, but that would certainly change our world.
Here’s a nano motor and a couple of guys who may have just smoke something:
1. Graphene Components In Planes
Graphene is way, way stronger than steel, much, much lighter than aluminium and virtually transparent. Hmm, what would benefit from those characteristics?
In the future planes will be lighter and stronger and therefore use less fuel. That will mean cheaper airfares and less pollution.
Estimates vary, but there is something like 100,000 commercial plane flights every day. At any given time there are 10,000 planes in the air. Cheaper fares and less CO2 emissions would have a significant impact on all aspects of the global economy.
Not only that, imagine plane windows being four times bigger than they are now and the planes external surface being heated to eliminate ice problems and reduce drag from water droplets. These design features are virtually assured now that we have graphene.
Sorry, this doesn’t mention graphene, but many of the things it shows you would only be possible because of graphene. Very cool stuff.
Researchers have successfully used 3D printers to create graphene devices. Assuming the printing machine could be driven by electricity produced by graphene solar panels and the carbon atoms that make graphene can also be produced using these solar panels, we are on our way to having a limitless supply of… whatever it is that 3D printers can produce.
Super thin, unbreakable condoms? Dollar notes perhaps?