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Cheaper Graphene Possible, say Caltech Researchers

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Caltech’s Dr. David Boyd and Dr. Nai-Chang Yeh, who stumbled upon a fast and cheap graphene manufacturing process.
Caltech’s Dr. David Boyd and Dr. Nai-Chang Yeh, who stumbled upon a fast and cheap graphene manufacturing process.

Since its official discovery just over a decade ago, graphene has taken the scientific world by storm, and scientists and researchers are just scratching the surface of possible applications in the modern and future world.

Indeed, we’ve seen graphene applications in everything from electric vehicle battery packs to water purification, not to mention supercapacitors, hydrogen fuel cells, and self-storing solar power. The only problem is, in spite of being cheaper than some other material options, such as platinum or iridium, graphene is still ridiculously expensive, and researchers have just scratched the surface in graphene mass-production methods, as well.

Do an eBay search for “graphene,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Such as one 38 mm single circular cutout of graphene-laced paper, which goes for $168, or one could go for a 100-mg vial of graphene oxide, for just $35, which still requires preparation to get graphene out of it. Of course, scientists and researchers have much better pricing for their research, but still would add thousands of dollars to a production hydrogen fuel cell, for example, in spite of being cheaper than platinum, for example.

Caltech (California Institute of Technology) researchers in Pasadena, California, practically stumbled on the solution to cheaper and simpler graphene production. The current-best graphene production method requires about ten hours and ten different steps, as well as temperatures around 1,800 °F, requiring special equipment to handle it.

The new process works at just 788 °F and takes about five minutes! Caltech’s Dr. David Boyd was searching for ways to simplify graphene production, and was having little success. In the middle of heating the copper sheet, required to oxidize methane, the source of the carbon atoms, Dr. Boyd was interrupted by a phone call.

That phone call, in turn, led to a slight overheating of the copper sheet, and the formation of graphene. The previous problem was that copper oxide would impede the growth of graphene.

The overheating, thanks to an unexpected phone call, evaporated the copper oxide, allowing graphene to form in its place. Building on this “oops” moment, Dr. Boyd went on to experiment with different chemistry, and found that the process worked at much lower temperatures than previously anticipated. When scaled up, cheaper and simpler graphene will go much further toward increased research and possible commercialization of graphene-based products.

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