Dubai: Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms organised in a hexagonal pattern, is attracting wide interest from researchers and universities across the world to be used for the next generation of electronics materials.
Jari Kinaret, Professor for Condensed Matter Theory group at the Department of Applied Physics at Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) and Director of Graphene Flagship, told Gulf News that the one layer of graphene has a lot of atomic properties.
It is strong, conducts electricity and heat very well. Since it is one atomic layer, these properties can be used in many applications.
The Graphene Flagship is a project funded by the European Union. It is a 10-year project and has been operating for more than four years. Today, there are more than 150 partners from more than 23 countries. Out of the 150 partners, about 50 are companies and around 80 are universities and the rest are research institutes. All are working on different aspects to bring graphene from the laboratory to marketplace.
“Graphene is more than 200 times stronger than steel and hold promise for a wide range of industries due to its unique electrical, mechanical and optical properties. It is also transparent,” Kinaret said.
First applications that have reached the market are mechanical properties such as tennis rackets, bicycle and motorcycle helmets, etc.
If we were to replace all the touchscreens worldwide, we need just 60 kilos of graphene because we need only one atomic layer.”
- Jari Kinaret | Professor for Condensed Matter Theory group at the Department of Applied Physics at Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)
He said that some applications are coming very strongly in the area of batteries.
“For these materials, you need a large surface area and good electrical conductivity. Graphene is the ideal material. There is a number of companies that are working on this kind of energy storing technologies. They are being commercialised but there is no product out on the market yet.
“Then there are optics-related applications. There are optical sensors that measure different body functions that can warn if you are out in the Sun for long and sensors that can differentiate different kinds of kinds of milk from each other,” he said.
In 5G networks, he said that sometimes the signal is transmitted in optical fibres and at the end of the fibre you need to convert it into electrical signals. You need some gadget that takes the optical signal and convert it into electrical and for that “we have a graphene-based photodetector”.
“We have a project with Airbus to study if we can make parts using graphene for reducing weight and improve resistance.
“Graphene is self-diagnosing, just by measuring the electrical resistivity it can conclude that a crack is developing somewhere. Many call it a miracle material but it is not and we call it as a very versatile material and supply is no issue as the world has enough carbon,” he said.
Since graphene is flexible, he said that it can be used as smartphone screens in future.
“If we were to replace all the touchscreens worldwide, we need just 60 kilos of graphene because we need only one atomic layer,” he said.
In a recent announcement, researchers from Australia have used a graphene-based product to make a water filter that can make highly-polluted seawater drinkable after just one pass.
Kinaret said that many of the applications work very well in the laboratory what remains to be seen is that one can take from the laboratory to the marketplace and for that few things need to happen.
“We need to improve the manufacturing technologies to improve production capacities and the bigger problem for business managers is that they need to consider to get guaranteed supplies,” he said.
Next to enter the marketplace will be the battery technologies within the next three years but he said the electronics applications are more challenging as silicon-based electronics are well developed and it has to compete with that.
“The volumes you need to produce is very large and I would expect it will take five years to get into the marketplace and some kinds of electronics will take longer than that. Graphene technology is still in its infancy. There are few products that are ready to be integrated into real life applications,” he said.