Will graphene change our lives? A growing number of informed people think it will. Scientists, entrepreneurs, and investors are enthusiastic because of the amazing properties this material has. Meanwhile, new manufacturing techniques that will lower production costs dramatically are being developed and potential new applications are being discovered. And even without any benefits from those, graphene is being called a wonder material.
Graphene is made from graphite, a substance that has been around for many centuries. Graphite is used in a wide variety of applications, including steel manufacturing, tennis racket frames, the brakes and engines of autos, batteries for laptops, and anti-corrosive paints; probably its best-known use is for writing and drawing in what is mistakenly called “lead” pencils.
Scientists have long theorized that graphene could be made out of graphite but they couldn’t figure out how to make it. The breakthrough came in 2004 in the Univ. of Manchester, and since then the scientific and business communities have never been the same.
Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon arranged in a honeycomb shape. It is more flexible than rubber and lighter than air, yet it is more than 200 times stronger than steel. Moreover, it is also an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity.
These characteristics mean there are many potential uses. Among those: batteries for solar-powered cars; entire cars could be made out of graphene and would be not only much stronger than conventional vehicles but also much lighter, boosting mileage significantly. Steel girders in skyscrapers could be replaced by graphene girders that are much stronger and easier to work with.
The world’s first graphene dress was recently modeled in Manchester, England. And because of graphene’s tiny size it could be used in medicine to seek and destroy sick cells without causing any damage to healthy ones. Moreover, it is bio-degradable, harder than diamond, can take any shape, may be able to clean up nuclear waste, create flexible computers, unbreakable phone screens, and much more. Scientists have said that graphene will change the world more than the Internet and transistors have.
One of the problems with commercializing graphene is that until now it has only been possible to make it in very small quantities using very complicated processes, and at a very high cost. Now a new study details how using soybean oil heated to 800C on nickel foil cuts the cost of making it by 90 percent. Separately, a physics professor discovered a way to make graphene in large quantities at an affordable price.
Scientists have said that graphene will change the world
more than the Internet and transistors have
Samsung, IBM, SanDisk, Nokia, and Cabot are among the numerous major corporations that have already taken out patents on the graphene-related products and techniques they have developed. Many small companies are also hard at work trying to develop and commercialize graphene products, and it is also being studied at some of the leading universities in the world.
Although price and quantity (and other considerations) are among the problems that still need to be resolved before graphene changes the world, some researchers and companies are looking beyond these and have disclosed products that are very far along in development. Among those:
*Chinese electronics company Dongxu Optoelectronics has revealed “the world’s first graphene battery,” which they claim can recharge phones or laptops up to 20 times faster than a regular lithium-ion battery can; the company says the battery can be recharged 3,500 times.
*A firm in India is developing a graphene-based material that can stop bleeding in less than 90 seconds;
*Graphene sieve filters can remove salt from seawater and turn it into fresh, drinking water. Scientists believe this may be readied for production in the near future, offering precious drinking water to tens of millions who are in desperate need of it.
*Researchers at MIT have recently created a 3-D printed type of graphene that, according to Computerworld, has the potential to develop “lightweight products for airplanes, cars, buildings, and even filtration devices.”
Graphene has the potential to revolutionize many products and even industries. Those interested in investment ideas have a number of options, among those: companies that mine and have reserves of the material; companies that make the machinery that will process it; companies that make graphene products, and others that sell them.
Without question, many of these companies will make huge profits, and a few may even generate spectacular returns to investors. But there are also some that will probably fold, either because they don’t have the technical prowess to compete, the necessary management skills, or the financial resources to hold on until meaningful revenues can start rolling in.
Without question, graphene will grow to monster-size proportions. Even so, investors need to be cautious, because sometimes monsters bite.
new discovery could unlock graphene’s full potential; graphene dress; discovering the world’s strongest material.
Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at email@example.com