Using graphene as an alternative to toxic materials in anti-corrosion coatings is just one of the possible uses for a breakthrough by CSIRO-led scientists in Australia, which means the world’s strongest material will become more commercially viable.
Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick. Its thin composition and high-conductivity proves very useful in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices. These highly sought-after properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.
Until now, the high cost of graphene production has been the major roadblock in its commercialisation. Previously, graphene was grown in a highly-controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, long hours of operation at high temperatures, and extensive vacuum processing.
Now the scientists have developed a novel “GraphAir” technology which eliminates the need for such a highly-controlled environment. The technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.
“This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han, co-author of a paper published in Nature Communications said.
“Our unique technology is expected to greatly reduce the cost of graphene production and drastically improve the uptake of graphene in new applications.”
GraphAir transforms soybean oil – a renewable, natural material – into functional and highly controlled graphene films in a single step.
“Our GraphAir technology results in good and transformable graphene properties, comparable to graphene made by conventional methods,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Dong Han Seo, co-author of the study.
Soybean oil, with heat, breaks down into a range of carbon building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene.
The team also transformed other types of renewable and even waste oil groups, such as those left over from barbecues or cooking, into low-cost graphene films.
“We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” Dr Seo added.
The potential applications of graphene are vast, such as water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine, to name a few.
Graphene has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties as well. Its uses therefore range from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels and new water purification methods.
CSIRO is looking to partner with industry to find new uses for graphene in replacing expensive gold or platinum in the photovoltaic layer of solar cells with graphene, such as anti-corrosion coatings as well as the ability to make solar panels more cheaply and prolonging battery life in energy devices through graphene’s excellent chemical stability.
Researchers from The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and The Queensland University of Technology also contributed to the work.