Graphene. If you’ve heard that word at all, you’ve probably heard of it as some futuristic wonder material, but never got an in depth explanation of what it is or what it does.
Graphene is a lattice of carbon atoms, only one atom thick, made into a hexagon pattern. Aside from being one atom thick, that might not seem too special, but this material can do strange and wonderful things. Graphene was first theorized in 1947, discovered in 2004, and we’re just starting to figure out how to make it in quantity, and not even very large quantity.
Graphene is made mainly out of graphite, but it can be made out of coal, rubber, and even wood.
Personally, I believe that coal may be the most economical thing to make it out of, due to its relative abundance. Hence the title
So, what does this stuff do?
Computers. A computer made with graphene transistors, is 1000x as powerful and uses only 1/100th of the electricity, compared to silicon computers.
Computers of various kinds use up 10% of the world’s energy, and graphene can reduce that to 0.01%; if we don’t just decide to dump that energy into more computing power, that is. A real miracle, both for for climate concerns, and for your electric bill
I shouldn’t even need to explain the benefits of making computers work 1000x faster, but I will. 1000x the power for intensive scientific research, 1000x the power for AI, 1000x the power for electronic trading, 1000x the power for web hosting, and yes, 1000x the power for playing video games on maximum visual settings Your smartphone’s processor on graphene, would be able to compete with record breaking trillion-transistor computer chips designed for advanced AI.
Also, graphene data storage can hold 10x more information than traditional drives. There are already 1TB MicroSD cards with traditional data storage tech, so why not have 10TB of graphene storage on your phone? As a data hoarder, this would be a dream come true for me, as well as many others.
Flexible screens and tech
Imagine a touch screen so flexible that you can fold it like cardboard or even normal paper. Now, imagine the variety of software tools, art programs, controllers and mobile games that could be based around reshaping the device itself. Graphene offers the potential for flexible electronics.
Someday, your phone or laptop could charge in seconds, and last much longer off that one charge.
They could also make batteries that would be woven into cloth. Imagine having a shirt or a coat, which could act as a (hopefully washing machine safe) battery pack to charge your electronics.
There’s even the potential for systems whereby this battery-wear could be charged by absorbing your own body heat.
Fresh water, Fresh food
It’s not just electronics, though that’s definitely where graphene excels the best.
Let’s start with water. Graphene membranes for water purification and desalination, could provide water for millions in the developing world.
Food. A layer of graphene in packaging can stop air and water from seeping in, extending shelf lives for packaged foods.
Graphene and other 2D materials offer a wide open space for innovation in pharmaceuticals and other medical devices. It is an especially versatile material for use in drug delivery.
A shining (rust free) future
Paints made with graphene could prevent rust from forming on vehicles and buildings.
Feather light flight
Planes and other aircraft could be much lighter, allowing them to go much farther, faster with less fuel.
How is it made?
Let me fill you in on a secret. You can make a small amount of graphene in your own home. Probably not usable quality, and definitely not in usable quantity, with a small amount of money and some time to kill, it’s doable. If you’ve got kids, this would make a great science fair idea.
The first graphene, made in a lab in 2004c the graphene that won a Nobel Prize in 2010, was made with things found in the average American elementary school classroom; scotch tape and graphite (which can be found in pencils).
That’s right, ladies, gentlemen and nonbinary folks! You can replicate a Nobel prize winning experiment with school stationary! Just take the tape, apply it to the tip of the pencil, rip it off, and you’ve just produced a very very small quantity of graphene, now attached to the tape.
For a slightly more involved recipe, provided by New Scientist, is noted as the recipe which could soon be used in industry for manufacturing graphene in bulk (take note, prospective graphene manufacturing tycoons)
Step one: buy graphite powder. As of my writing this article, you can buy a quart of it on Amazon for $18.99.
Step two: Pour it in a blender.
Step three: add water and common dish soap
Step three: blend at high speed
New Scientist notes that, scaling up this method for industry, a 10,000 liter vat in a factory, could create 100 grams of graphene per hour, which may not seem impressive, but laboratories are used to only producing ½ a gram per hour using previous methods.
Late in 2022, while this article was still in production, a new material was discovered. Graphullerite. Graphullerite is a sort of combination of the molecular structure of graphene and fullerenes. The potential uses and application of this new material are unknown, as it has just been discovered. May it yield plenty of good for us in the years and decades to come.
For the uses of graphene: https://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk/learn/applications/
For how to make graphene with your blender: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25442-make-graphene-in-your-kitchen-with-soap-and-a blender/#:~:text=First%2C%20pour%20some%20graphite%20powder,made%20the%20wonder%20material%20graphene.
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