Graphene, hard but at the same time flexible and rich in properties
Let’s discover the graphene, what is this new and innovative material, which are its applications and the most important properties.
What is graphene?
Graphene, an ultra-flat two-dimensional molecule obtained in the laboratory by graphite, was discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, professors of the University of Manchester and Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
In order to obtain this material, the two scientists had to separate layers and layers of graphite with a special adhesive until they reached the point where they obtained a single monoatomic layer.
It is a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, bound in a hexagon-shaped pattern, so basically it is a carbon“”sheet”.
Its unique features gave it – with full rights – the name of “material of wonders“.
A material so unique and difficult to identify, could only have incredible features, here are some:
- a million times thinner than paper
- 100-300 times more resistant than steel
- hard as diamond
- flexible as plastic
- high thermal and electrical conductivity
- transparent (absorbs only about 2% of the light)
- very light.
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Application and uses of Graphene
The applications of the material of the wonders are many, and continue to add other studies in various fields. From medicine, to energy, passing from aeronautics and also construction…
Graphene in energy field
Batteries, solar panels and fuel cells are just some of the best applications.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries (used in most of the smartphones and laptops) are made of graphite electrodes. During charging, lithium ions penetrate the graphite layers, where they are stored. Over time, however, graphite is destroyed, and the battery ends up having no more life.
On the contrary, graphene has a much higher surface area, as well as greater electrical conductivity; these two factors allow to create batteries with a very long life, or powerful, for hybrid cars.
The use of graphene in the field of alternative energies is being worked on, but costs must be reduced in order to exploit the potential of this material in the best and cheapest way.
Graphene in aeronautics
In the manufacture of airplanes and helicopters, graphene has proved to be an exceptional material, mainly due to its weight: in this way, ultra-light but highly resistant vehicles are produced.
Even in the aerospace sector it is used under microgravity conditions to develop cooling systems for satellites. Among the best innovations, many government agencies are trying to exploit it to create solar sails (to cover infinite distances) or cables for space elevators.
Especially in the medical field, graphene proves to be a material with multiple uses. Among these applications, the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy) has found that, inserted in gels and liquids, it can disinfect against several bacteria.
In addition, at the University of Texas, researchers have created graphene “tattoos” capable of monitoring the patient’s hydration level or heartbeats.
- the field of flexible electronics (conductive inks, folding touch screens)
- nanocomposite materials (in which graphene is used and studied in tires, helmets, tennis rackets, shoes, ski boots, fabrics that maintain body heat, components for the aerospace industry, materials for thermal insulation and flame retardation).
We are working on the use of graphene in the field of alternative energy, but we have to reduce costs to make the best use of this material in the best and most economical way.
Based on carbon, graphene is also very important:
- for high-speed communications
- nanocomposite materials (where graphene is used and studied in tyres, helmets, tennis rackets, shoes, ski boots, fabrics that maintain body heat, aerospace components, thermal insulation and flame retardant materials).
Regarding its use, much will depend on the evolution and maturation of production methods, because the graphene can replace other existing materials only if its actual properties will be such as to justify the cost (often very high) required for a change in the process of production.