Graphene: a revolutionary material?

Analyst Commentary, Matthew Bovencamp: Graphene, which is a flat monolayer of carbon atoms tightly packed into a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice, has gained considerable attention after researchers were able to extract graphene from bulk graphite in 2004. The excitement over graphene is due to its unique properties and the abundance of graphite from which graphene is derived. Many products such as LCD displays and solar cells utilize rare and expensive materials in the production process. Graphene may potentially be utilized as a substitute material, offering cost savings to manufacturers.

Graphene has many properties that may be commercially exploited as the research in this area advances. The thermal, mechanical, electrical, and optical properties of graphene makes the material ideal for a number of different applications including integrated circuits, high-sensitivity sensors, transparent conductive films for touch screen displays, more efficient solar cells, ultracapacitors, biodevices, desalination, and building materials. For example, researchers at the University of Technology Sydney have created a graphene paper that could have huge implications for the aerospace and auto industries. The graphene paper, compared to steel, is six times lighter with 10 times higher tensile strength and 13 times higher bending rigidity, offering the ability to produce lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles. Another example is in the solar power industry where researchers have developed a method to improve the conversion efficiency of dye-sensitized solar cells from around 2.9% to 8.6% by using graphene. Dye-sensitized solar cells use common and relatively cheap materials, making them cheaper than solar cells today that use silicon and thin-film technologies. Continued research on this type of solar cell technology to improve the efficiency rates will be required to compete with existing technologies, but the potential cost savings could be significant.

Graphene’s full potential can potentially transform many industries, providing investment opportunities in a variety of sectors.

References: CleanTechnica (May 5), Gizmag (Apr 29)

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