Researchers have been finding numerous possible applications for the wonder-material called graphene, but mass-production has, so far, escaped them.
So far, graphene production in small quantities has been found to be most efficient on particles of copper, smaller than 1µm (micrometer). Of course, any growth of graphene is going to be on this tiny scale, which limits the amount that can be produced at any one time. Another major obstacle to mass-production of graphene lies in the fact that the tiny, <1µm, smaller grains tended to melt at the high temperatures needed to grow graphene on them. Using a larger film of copper would seem to be the next logical step, something on the order of 10,000x the size of the original grains, several cm (centimeters), actually.
By depositing a copper film on a sapphire wafer and heat-treating it, researchers at the National Institute of Standards (NIST), in Boulder, Colorado, found that the copper was more resistant to the high heat required for graphene growth. The NIST research team was then able to grow graphene grains up to 0.2mm in diameter (the bright stars in the image), about 200x larger than growth on individual single-µm copper grains.
With discovery of graphene’s interesting properties, researchers have been finding uses for it in many fields. More efficient production of graphene could lead to mass-production, benefiting multiple industries. Graphene has been found to influence more-efficient solar panels, more-powerful lithium-sulfur batteries, supercapacitors, and even better water purification technology. Graphene has also been finding uses in synthetic fuel production and cheaper hydrogen fuel cells. If NIST’s method is truly scalable, commercialization might not be far behind.
Image © NIST