Monday, January 14, 2013

GRAPHENE: New Miracle Material !

Imagine Ipads as thin as credit cards, mobile phones you can roll up like paper, and airplanes that don't weigh much more than their passengers and fuel. These and many other stunning advances are possible in the near future because of a new material called Graphene that is being hailed by research teams around the world as the plastic of the 21st century.

Harder than a diamond and more elastic than rubber, it's a carbon lattice that is just one atom thick, and almost transparent. It sounds flimsy, but it's not (see photo). Graphene is the strongest material ever produced by man. "It's 200 times stronger than structural steel,'' says mechanical engineering professor James Hone of Columbia University. "It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran (plastic) Wrap.''

Although its existence was first theorized in 1947, a Soviet-trained scientist, Andre Geim, was the first to isolate graphene in a serendipitous moment in a lab in Manchester, England, in 2003. In those 10 years since, scientists are just now starting to understand its potential, and it could bring a wide-ranging revolution that will likely affect everyone. Three million sheets of graphene are only one millimeter thick, so its use as a component of incredibly strong composite materials could transform air travel and transportation. A new generation of lightweight, superstrong planes and cars could go further on much less fuel. Researchers have discovered it's the best conductor of heat and electricity ever known -- 1000 times more efficient than copper.

IBM's new graphene transistor is the fastest in the world, nearly four times faster than a conventional silicone equivalent. Engineers at the University of Texas have discovered that by replacing the carbon used in ultra-capacitors with graphene, it's possible to store double the amount of energy. Speaking of energy, Northwestern University has found that a specially crafted graphene electrode can allow a lithium-ion battery to store 10 times as much power and charge 10 times faster -- and last longer too! This means graphene makes it possible for a battery to be 10 times smaller than today's, but with the same capacity. Such a battery is the holy grail of electric car manufacturers. It can also be used to produce auto tires that last for a life of the car and superstrong composite tanks for hydrogen-fueled cars.

The biggest challenge now is producing high-quality graphene on an industrial scale. The Koreans are already making and selling plenty of graphene. The Korean electronics giant Samsung is now producing a touchscreen using the material.  So far, the largest sheet of graphene produced is 30 inches square (7.6 cm), developed by Korean and Japanese researchers. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers are working on an industrial scale ''printing press' to crack out large sheets of graphene, but ''this is just the beginning'' says Geim.

The Way I See It....there will never be a shortage of raw material because graphene is made from carbon, the forth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium and oxygen. Rice University's professor, James Tour, says, ''You can make graphene from just about anything, plastic waste, grass, sugar -- anything with carbon in it. Theoretically, the process to make graphene should be environmentally friendly.''

Geim  and co-researcher professor Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2010 for their work on graphene...and rightly so. ''Carbon, the basis of all known life on earth, has surprised us once again,'' said the judges. I can see that really, the possibilities of graphene are limited only by our imagination.

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