For all the properties of the latest wünder-material, graphene, it still remains an expensive acquisition, making even graphene research and development an expensive proposition.
The growing list of graphene properties includes possible application in water treatment, solar power, electric vehicles, even electronics. Unfortunately, even these improvements in efficiency may not be enough to offset how expensive the material is. On eBay, I was able to find a graphene sample, grown on both sides of a 20 micron-thick copper sheet, measuring 50.8 mm by 101.6 mm, just 103.2 cm2, selling for $700. The problem is that graphene sheets are very difficult to produce without introducing defects.
The current-best method for graphene production, for example, is an eight-step gaseous deposition process, which results in graphene deposited on a metal film, such as the eBay sample, which then needs to be transferred to whatever is being developed, such as a solar cell. Transferring the graphene often leads to defects, which makes the process even more expensive.
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has developed a process that results in much “cleaner” graphene, that is, graphene without defects. The process borrows from carbon-fiber manufacture, bypassing the need for a metal substrate for deposition. The new KIST process, in which a polymer solution is spin-coated on a quartz substrate for heat treating, is faster and continuous, which makes production cheaper. Additionally, the new process eliminates the need to transfer the resulting graphene monolayer to anything else, eliminating the main cause of defects, further reducing production costs. Finally, the non-metal-based graphene substitute exhibits all the wonderful properties of graphene that has set the research community abuzz.
Photo credit: UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences