In 2004, two scientists working at the University of
Manchester discovered Graphene, a substance that Steve
Connor, science editor of the UK's
newspaper has called "the scientific find of the
century."The Nobel committee agreed and in 2010 Graphene's
discovery won the Nobel Prize in Physics.
The magic that is graphene
Graphene, which was originally derived from graphite
(found in pencil lead), is a single layer sheet of carbon
atoms that has amazing material characteristics. For
example, it is the strongest material in the world, more
than 100 times stronger than diamond in fact.
It is also completely flexible and highly conductive and
likely to revolutionize many industries in the coming decades
including electronics, material sciences, and medicine. This
article will focus on how this wonder nano-material might change
Unbreakable, thinner, and flexible iPhones
Graphene, in addition to its amazing strength, it is
remarkably thin. For example a single ounce of graphene could
cover 28 football fields. This property has the potential to
revolutionize smartphones in extraordinary ways.
According to the American Chemical Society, "Touch
screens made with graphene as their conductive element could be
printed on thin plastic instead of glass, so they would be light
and flexible, which could make cell phones as thin as a piece of
paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket.
... Because of graphene's incredible strength, these cell phones
would be nearly unbreakable."
In fact, the ultraflexible nature of graphene will eventually
allow for electronics that can wrap around your wrist, making it
ideal for future versions of the highly anticipated
Charge your phone ... in five seconds
At UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute, Dr. Richard
Kaner and his graduate student Maher El-Kady are working on
graphene-based micro-supercapacitors that could make all current
battery technology obsolete. Their technology promises the same
energy density as traditional lithium ion batteries but would be
able to charge 1,000 times faster, in as little as five seconds
for a battery the size of an iPhone's.
Three additional benefits to this team's efforts are the fact
that the technology is highly environmentally friendly, exhibits
extreme flexibility, and should prove cheap to
commercialize. For example, not only are graphene supercapacitors
nontoxic and biodegradable but they can even be composted.
In terms of flexibility, these supercapacitors are highly
bendable and twistable, making them ideal candidates for powering
future wearable technology, flexible displays, and even
To help bring this technology to market cheaply, the Dr.
Kaner's team has been able to manufacture their supercapacitors
using commercially available DVD burners. According to Maher
El-Kady, one of the co-creators of this technology: "Using this
technique, we have been able to produce more than 100
micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in less than 30 minutes,
using inexpensive materials."
Dr. Kaner's team is currently working with
, a manufacturer of carbon-based supercapacitors and other energy
storage devices, as well as looking for other industry partners
to bring this miracle technology to market as soon as
Smartphones that never run out of power
Graphene, due to its ultrathin nature and high conductance, has
the possibility to greatly increase the efficiency of solar
That fact, when combined with research out of the University
of Sheffield (in the UK) could allow for smartphones that never
run out of energy.
Researchers at this University are working on revolutionary
spray on solar technology utilizing a mineral crystal structure
called perovskite, which is composed out of calcium titanate; a
substance that's found all over the world.
The benefits of perovskite over silicon solar technology is
that its much cheaper to obtain and can absorb light in layers
180 thinner than silicon.
According to Professor David Lidzey, the lead researcher
on the project, "There is a lot of excitement around
perovskite-based photovoltaics. ... Remarkably, this class
of material offers the potential to combine the high performance
of mature solar cell technologies with the low embedded energy
costs of production of organic photovoltaics. Perovskite
cells now have efficiencies of up to 19%. This is not so far
behind that of silicon at 25% -- the material that dominates the
worldwide solar market."
Tesla's Model S may one day come with spray on solar panels.
Image: Tesla Motors
The practical applications for this technology include
high-efficiency solar panels that could be coated on personal
electronics and cars. In fact the same nozzles used to coat your
iPhone could also be used to install solar panels all over your
. Thus, this technology could prove instrumental in
reducing the cost of solar power going forward.
Graphene, being highly conductive, nontoxic, lightweight, and
completely transparent, would make an ideal substrate material
for this technology.
How close is the Graphene age?
Despite graphene's amazing promise, the technology mentioned
above is still several years away from winding up in
your iPhone for three main reasons. First, graphene's
discovery is just ten years old and materials scientists are
still in the experimental stage of discovering what it can
Second, to commercialize graphene products economically,
it would require large scale manufacturing facilities. Right now
scientists are still experimenting on how to best manufacture
graphene, much less incorporate it into consumer goods.
Finally, the intellectual property for graphene is
very valuable and largely in the hands of Asian research
institutions. In fact China and South Korea hold 43% of graphene
related patents, with the US holding 23%. Six of the top 10
patent holders are research universities, with four companies, (
IBM, Sandisk, Samsung
) dominating the field.
To fully realize the benefits of graphene will take time, to
both invent and refine the manufacturing process of this wonder
compound, and for the universities that own the patents to
license the intellectual property to companies that can do
Graphene's potential implications on your smartphone are amazing
to contemplate. Near instant charging and spray on solar
technology that means you never run out of power on a phone
that's amazingly flexible, thin, lightweight, and nearly
unbreakable. Though the technology is still a few years away from
commercialization, the end product should prove well worth the
for the next decade
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3 Ways This Wonder Material Could Change the
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