The Graphene Revolution: Part 3

Fanny Littmarck | April 10, 2013
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Everyone’s talking about graphene right now. When was the last time a material received this much attention? Sure, other materials have peaked our interest before, but when something breaks into more mainstream news you know it’s going to be a very big deal.

Graphene Takes Media by Storm

By now you’ve probably also seen my colleague Dan’s two prior blog posts on the “Graphene Revolution”. In Part 1 he introduced us to the material itself, and in Part 2 he showed three interesting simulation scenarios involving the material du jour. Yet, as any quick Google search will reveal, we’re not the only ones talking about this.

Business Insider recently published an article postulating that patent wars over graphene have already begun. The author of the article also reiterates just how special of a material graphene is; it’s incredibly thin while also mind-blowingly strong. Graphene further proves useful for a great many applications, giving way to this ongoing “patent war”.

Digital financial media company TheStreet ran a story boasting graphene as the (latest…) renewable energy solution. The article suggests that graphene can be turned into a capacitor that can help power electric cars for longer distances than are currently possible. Not only that, apparently this type of capacitor would also be able to recharge in very little time. The punchline of this particular story is that the science here is done and we just need to get going on engineering and mass-producing products using the material. The one obstacle we need to get around before this can happen is, of course, the patent wars highlighted by Business Insider.

The high-prized strength of this material is usually the central theme of articles found on the subject, but one group of researchers point out that “even graphene has weak spots“. In particular, the researchers studied graphene sheets that had been generated in a lab. Apparently these sheets are seldom perfect arrays of hexagons, resulting in graphene domains that are not quite lined up with each other. Instead, a seven-atom ring occurs at the grain boundary junctions, thus creating weak spots in the material. The scientists discovered that where these weak spots appear, polycrystalline graphene has about half the strength of pristine samples under tension. Uh-oh. These findings directly contradict older research stating that graphene’s strength in fact lies in its defects. This group of researchers does suggest that the key here is “the angles at which the individual sheets are stitched together”, and that in some cases the grain boundaries can be just as strong as pure graphene.

The Graphene Revolution Continues

So who’s right? I’m inclined to say we cannot ignore the weak spots, but I also don’t think they will put an end to the Graphene Revolution. It’s already too strongly underway. With more research, scientists and engineers are bound to uncover more potential uses for this material, and get an even better understanding of how it works — in isolation and together with other materials and physics.

We will of course continue to cover this topic, so stop back soon for Part 4 of our graphene blog series.

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