We’ve heard the Graphene promise since 2010, after Dr. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel prize in Physics for discovering the wonderful properties of monolayer graphene structure. Since then, multiple articles and numerous Ted Talks hailed the properties and potential of graphene with an anticipation of major breakthroughs just within reach.
We heard about the single atom thick carbon material arraigned in nature’s most optimal pattern, the hexagon. The lattice provides strength and impermeability. A single layer can be stronger than steel and is able to block passage of even the smallest gas particles. This material, if laid out flawlessly, stores and conducts electricity more efficiently than lithium ion. It also conducts electricity 100 times more effectively than copper and moves electrons 140 times faster than silicon. It’s light weight, conducts heat, is transparent, and can be levitated by neodymium magnets.
Incredible properties with an endless array of application across most industries. From reinforcing steel within building structures, to supercapacitor energy storage alternative to electrolytic batteries. Graphene could also be used to create conductive materials that can transfer energy from the human body to power small gadgets. Flexible screen is for the next gen phones or tablets is possible. Also, electrical cars can benefit from charging in minutes vs hours. Finally, Graphene is biocompatible witch can assist in many medical enhancements from sight restoration to nano drug delivery.
So, there is potential with Graphene. Such potential that the birthplace for modern Graphene, which is the home for Dr. Geim and Novoselov, The University of Manchester, founded the National Graphene Institute (NGI) in 2015. The building on the South Campus of the university, is specifically designed to interface industry with researchers and collaborate for commercialization of Graphene.
The restriction was production levels, Graphene could only be produced in small quantities without defect. With defects in the lattice, the superior properties of Graphene will degrade exponentially. Thus, a technique of consistent mass production is needed for all use-cases of Graphene, from composite materials to electronic devices.
Dr. Ania Servant, who served at NGI as Knowledge Exchange Fellow (2013-2015). She explained the production models and limitations for each technique during that time.
Currently there are two different methods for producing graphene. Bottom up and top down. Bottom up uses chemistry to assemble carbon atoms in order to create the monolayer structure. The main technique used in this process is chemical vapour deposition (CVD), which allows you to produce a monolayer of graphene directly onto a copper or nickel substrate.
If you want to place graphene on any arbitrary substrate you need to transfer it from the copper. This transfer technique can induce defects on the monolayers including holes, cracks and wrinkles that appear after this transfer. This causes a drop in the overall quality and therefore a reduction in the graphene properties. This is one of the major issues concerned with many different graphene based projects especially in the production of electronic device such as mobile phones.
Top down refers to the exfoliation of graphite into graphene. Graphite is millions of mono-layers of graphene stuck together… Top down essential means starting with a big element and finishing with a small element. This was first achieved using sticky type.
To date, exfoliation is still the best technique for producing a defect-less mono-layer of graphene… However, this method is not suitable for the large scale production runs.
Alternative methods have been developed to produce graphene via top down. Most notably the liquid phase exfoliation method, which was developed in Dublin by Professor Coleman. The graphene is obtained by putting graphite into a solvent which is then shock vigorously using sonication points. This results in graphite exfoliating spontaneously into the solvent. This method allows us to obtain graphene ink, graphene paint, graphene solution and if you evaporate the solvent- graphene powder.
As it stands, this technique only allows us to obtain grams of graphene, which is not an efficient amount for use in industry projects or composite materials. For this reason, a lot of investment has been made into research in the UK and worldwide, to facilitate the high level production of graphene.
Another technique to exfoliate graphite… The method is based on the electrochemical exfoliation of graphite using an electric current under specific conditions. This method of production has great potential in producing high quality graphene in the form of a powder solution or an ink.
So what has her old research institution been up to this year. Judging from the latest Twitter feeds, the most recent innovation is integration of graphene into the latest running shoes and rackets. Although NGI’s Twitter intro to the Bloomberg article reads, “Graphene is ‘realizing its promise’ – This account has been verified by [email protected] The number of products on the market benefiting from #graphene’s properties is accelerating impressively” .
The headline for the Bloomberg article reads, “Hyped Miracle Material Graphene Is Realizing Its Promise as ‘Pixie Dust’”.
Use of graphene has grown, the global market in 2012 reached $9 million and by 2017 it grew to $50.93 million. Projections for 2023 range from 358 million to 1 billion dollar industry.
However, promises are as fleeting as car manufacturer Fisker, who promised an all graphene power source for its latest venture Emotion all EV, but this promised was made back in 2010 with the Karma model and reverted to Lithium-ion battery packs before the production model rolled out. After announcing a commitment at the January 2018 CES, projected model roll-out this time will be early 2019.
The company Fisker is depending upon for delivery is Nanotech Energy (NE), who raised another investment round in March 2018 falling just short of their 4 million dollar offering. So far on their website, the language of more potential is present:
“Imagine a world where charging your device happened in just a fraction of the time…”.
“We want to revolutionize…”.
The electric car section states, “…which when demonstrated will be the longest range in the world. Nanotech Energy offers graphene oxide and graphene products in different formulations that are designed to be customized for every kind of use. Because of this, Nanotech Energy’s graphene products have the potential to revolutionize graphene industry…”
More forward-looking statement even for small consumer electronic devices, “With ultrahigh energy density, our proprietary GPower-345 batteries promise to increase the operation time of portable electronic devices by 25% while extending the battery lifetime as well.”
Well, patient may finally pay off when it comes to consumer electronic batteries. Samsung announced its intentions of utilizing the technology; belief is beginning to solidify.
Samsung SDI along with Samsung Advanced institute of Technology (SAIT) and Seoul National University, are developing battery technology that supplements lithium-ion instead of supplanting it. Mixing materials of graphene and silica to produce popcorn like balls of graphene via a process called chemical vapor deposition. An early prototype of this battery was revealed in the 2018 Detroit Auto show its new car battery that claims a range of 430 miles and needs to charge only 20 min.
Dr. Son In-hyuk, who led the research at SAIT said,
“Our research enables mass synthesis of multifunctional composite material graphene at an affordable price. At the same time, we were able to considerably enhance the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in an environment where the markets for mobile devices and electric vehicles is growing rapidly. Our commitment is to continuously explore and develop secondary battery technology in light of these trends.”
Not only does Samsung have an entire division dedicated to research with the best partnerships and a hefty war-chest, Samsung also has great incentive to uphold its reputation for producing the best technology, showing its competences in battery tech, and being the key supplier to other manufacturers.
Charging 5X faster is the marketing cry for all battery form factors, from watches to cell phones to autos. With the added chemical stability of graphene, the new batteries can also maintain stability in temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Research data was published by SAIT in the journal Nature Communications .
Samsung is projecting 2019 for the battery technology to incorporate into products. Between Samsung and Huawei, Fisker and Ford, many companies are looking to utilized graphene and the industry just may push to the $1 billion market projection by 2020.