Graphene Uses – Past, Present & Future
The many graphene uses continue to excite both the practical and future-oriented communities ever since the material’s accidental discovery in 2004.
What is it?
Graphene draws attention by its very physical configuration. It is a single atom-thick surface of honeycomb-arranged carbon atoms.
Owing to its negligible thickness, it is often described as a 2-D material. The unique configuration comes alongside a host of unusual properties; namely extreme strength, superconductivity, flexibility, and transparency.
How it all started
The solution of laboratory graphene production was accidentally discovered when two scientists conducted an ad-hoc experiment which consisted of gradually exfoliating atoms from graphene. What they were left with was a single sheet of carbon atoms.
What are the current uses?
Looking at its properties, it is obvious graphene has a lot of potential for the future. It is however also reasonable to take a look at the current environment of graphene applications.
New types of batteries using graphene
It naturally comes to mind to augment batteries with graphene. It is superconductive and light, thus promising to help the industry tackle several of its key challenges (such as charging times). Several companies have however already tapped into graphene’s electrical potential and managed to benefit from its properties.
Graphene rolled into tubes has high energy and low resistance. There are already batteries that benefit and contain graphene tube-coated anodes and cathodes, as well as graphene tube-enhanced electrolyte. These batteries boast higher charge/discharge power and double the cycles of a conventional lithium-ion battery.
The use of graphene in polymer composite production is step-by-step starting to catch on. In today’s applications, a sheet of graphene is placed onto a polymer; enhancing the strength and stiffness of the resins therein.
Graphene is used in composites already over a decade, but in most cases as a binder. Uses, such as the one above, which actually promote a synergy between the other composite and graphene are still emerging.
Graphene light bulbs
The graphene light bulb was informally dubbed the first commercially viable consumer product. It is a LED diode coated with a sheet of graphene. The coating takes heat away from the components and thus extends the light bulb’s lifetime; while at the same time decreasing the energy consumption.
Of course, there are many more carbon allotropes than just graphene. Some of them, however, are a shape made from a curved 2D carbon atom sheet. This makes graphene an optimal raw material in the production of nano-tubes and fullerenes.
Nano-tubes, as the name suggests, are tubes made of rolled-up graphene. Their size varies, based on application, from small (use in electronics) to large (for transport of smaller molecules).
Fullerenes are 3D carbon spheres and can best be described as ‘footballs’ made from graphene. The most famous fullerenes are the buckminsterfullerenes which consist of 60 carbon atoms.
Graphene uses - future uses
It is worthwhile to also examine the future graphene technology applications.
So far, graphene seems like a highly bio-available material. When it undergoes required testing, it will be an ideal material for biosensors and drug delivery mediums
Graphene is a supercapacitor, which means it charges rapidly and discharges gradually. Such a superconductor battery may replace lithium-ion batteries and make way for feasible mass electro mobile transportation.
Its superconductivity makes graphene a good candidate for a new type of transistor material. It has a negative differential, thus potentially enabling non-Boolean operations. The absence of a band gap however still poses a challenge for graphene semi-conductors.