In order to get introduced to Graphene, a good point of start would be Graphite. Graphite is a naturally-occurring form of crystalline carbon. It is a native element mineral found in metamorphic and igneous rocks. Regarding its composition, Graphite is a stack of carbon-atom layers.
In each of these single layers, that are Graphene, the carbon atoms form hexagons that take the shape of a honey comb lattice. It is similar to a Carbon nanotube but is flat instead of cylindrical.
In the year 2004, physicists at the University of Manchester isolated and characterized a single atom thick layer of Graphite which is Graphene. In this, every carbon atom is covalently bonded to three other carbon atoms and the layer of Graphene is considered as one molecule.
In Graphene one carbon atom is bonded to only three other atoms whereas they have the capability to bond with a fourth atom. This property allows the conduction of electrical current. The mobility of electron in Graphene is higher than any other known material and researchers are working on methods to build transistors with Graphene that are currently made of silicon wafers. Next, the high tensile strength of Graphene may make it very useful in composite materials.
Applications of Graphene
At present Graphene is to be used in improving the performance and efficiency of existing materials. But in the future, it could be developed together with other two dimensional crystals to create some even more amazing compounds. The first production of Graphene was done by mechanical exfoliation. This entails literally taking Graphite and extracting layer upon layer to obtain Graphene.
Following the development of Graphene, there was a substantial increase in interest in other 2D crystals. As an example Magnesium Diboride (MgB2), which is a relatively efficient superconductor, combining this with Graphene would improve its efficiency. This is just one example of the multiple potential application areas of the wonder material Graphene. In the paragraphs below provides more details regarding the applications of Graphene.
1. Biological Engineering
Graphene offers a large surface area, with high electrical conductivity, thinness and strength. This makes it an eligible candidate for the development of fast and efficient bio electric sensory devices, with the ability to measure glucose levels, hemoglobin levels, cholesterol and even DNA sequencing to name some. Also, due to its molecular make-up and potential bio compatibility, it could be utilized in the process of tissue regeneration. With advancements in use of graphene we could see the use of engineered Graphene as antibiotics and for cancer treatment opportunities. Though there are still many obstacles to be overcome, Graphene promises to play a vital part in the area of Biological Engineering.
2. Optical Electronics
This is one of the major areas where Graphene is expected to play a major role within a short period of time. Under this we are talking about Liquid displays (LCD), Organic light emitting diodes (OLED) and foldable displays. With its transparency and conductivity Graphene is said to work very well in this field of application. Devices such as Graphene based e-paper with the ability to display interactive and updatable information and flexible electronic devices including portable computers and televisions are to be expected in future.
When water is allowed to pass through Graphene, it is almost completely impervious to liquids and gases (even relatively small helium molecules). With its extremely small pore size, pressure during ultrafiltration is reduced. Graphene could be developed for use in water filtration systems, desalination systems and efficient and economically more viable biofuel creation.
4. Composite Materials
Already briefly mentioned above Graphene due to its strength, flexibility and conductivity is highly valuable for the composite materials industry. One other property of Graphene is its lightness. Articles discussing the application of Graphene in the aerospace industry can be redundantly found. In the long run Graphene is to be used together with, most probably, plastics such as epoxy in order to replace steel resulting in fuel efficiency and increase of flight range by reducing vessel weight.
5. Photovoltaic Cells
Due to its high transparency, Graphene can be used as the alternative to Silicon for manufacturing photovoltaic cells. While Silicon cells are very expensive to produce, graphene based cells are potentially much less so. When Silicon turn light into electricity a lot of potential energy is lost as heat. Graphene has the potential to be as efficient as, if not more efficient than silicon.
6. Energy Storage
One of the most interesting area of application for Graphene is Energy storage. The storage of electricity in batteries and capacitors - while not in use - has always been an issue. Graphene is expected to play a big role in shortening the duration of charging a battery and increasing the storage capacity of a capacitor. At present the incorporation of Graphene in Lithium ion batteries are being researched.