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Will Graphene truly become the next miracle material? Special

By Robert Magyar     Jan 18, 2015 in Technology
Philadelphia - Developments for carbon based Graphene have been fast and furious since 2003. However mass production of Graphene remains a challenge. In spite of significant research and development, Graphene-based products have yet to appear en masse.
Discovered in 2003, graphene is a carbon based material which is only one atom thick, flexible, transparent, impermeable to moisture yet permeable to liquids while being stronger than diamonds and more electrically conductive than gold. University researchers and many industry analysts increasingly view graphene as a potential miracle material which might allow significant technology breakthroughs in many products. Its use is being touted for bendable touch screen displays, low cost solar cells, battery storage, super capacitors, high speed semi-conductors along with lubricants, bio-sensors and even desalination of salt water into drinking water. Yet while graphene can today be produce is extremely small sheets at the lab level, full commercial operations capable of producing large scale material sheets for use in industry remain a challenge.
As evidence of these challenges, the European Union industry research consortium, GRENADA has been focused for the last several years on funding a series of research projects designed to validate the mainstream commercialization of Graphene. After a number of funded studies, GRENADA executives have concluded and posted on their main website, "At the moment, none of the proposed devices in literature fully or even approximately meet the requirements for industrial implementation. This suggests that graphene materials, when exposed to local environments, are not able to faithfully preserve their intrinsic properties."
Despite this, many industry analysts forecast a very large and vibrant market for graphene products in the near future. Boston, Massachusetts based research group, IDTECHEX, forecasts the world market for graphene to be roughly $93 million by 2019. They further estimate by 2024, the market will grow to an estimated $390 million given its potential product application benefits. As evidence of this, by 2010, just seven years after the full discovery of graphene, more than 200 companies worldwide were making investments in varying product applications using graphene as a key element. As a result of continued industry investments and ongoing university research, more than 8,000 patents for the material and use have been filed. contacted Ron Mertens, the founder and Editor-In-Chief of the information web portal, to ask of him where he thought the industry stood as it enters 2015. "There are dozens of universities in the U.S. working on graphene materials and applications. Among the leading ones are University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Rice University, UCBerkely and University of California at Riverside and many others." Mertens stated. Ron is a former software engineer who has turned his initial curiosity about graphene into a full time career with his now recognized as a leading information hub for developments in the material.
When asked about some of the stated difficulties and challenges regarding the mainstream commercialization of graphene, Ron responded, "Some graphene applications such as composites and also sensors to some degree are already here. Some will arrive soon such as batteries, probably more display stuff and 3D printing filaments. Some graphene applications such as computer chips will arrive later on." Ron stated industry giant IBM is heavily involved in the area of graphene in computer chips.
His view of the industry evolves from his understanding of the wide variety of graphene not only in regard to product applications but also in the way graphene is attempted to be manufactured. Ron told, "First of all, it is important to know that there are many "types" of graphene, from graphite-oxide materials to graphene flakes (or GNPs) to graphene ribbons and finally full graphene sheets. It is true that commercialization of graphene ribbons and sheets have not happened yet. However graphene flakes are already commercialized and used in several applications already on the market, mostly sports equipment, interestingly."
He further stated, "There are more products on the markets, for example graphene paints, be we have little information on that. There is a graphene-battery on the market already, Vorbeck's, but the graphene is not used in the chemistry, it is only used to make it (the battery) flexible and strong. I believe we will see the first real graphene batteries on the market by 2016, but that's my educated guess." As an example, when asked about the numerous rumors in the U.S. that California based Telsa Motors is about to introduce a battery using graphene which the industry is claiming would increase the driving distances of Telsa cars by more than 30% over current distances, Ron replied, "Regarding Tesla all I can say is that rumors are indeed circulating about a graphene battery, but I don't have any more information besides what was posted on a couple of times."
With industry developments continuing, here are some of the latest announcements from several of the large universities which Ron stated were significantly involved in ongoing graphene research:
California based Carbon Sciences has announced it is working with and funding research at the University of California Santa Barbara for a breakthrough technology using methane to produce stable large sheet graphene capable of maintaining its integrity in many local environments.
This past December, researchers at Houston, Texas based Rice University announced they had created, "flexible, patterned sheets of multilayer graphene from a cheap polymer by burning it with a computer controlled laser." Rice researchers further stated, "The process works in air at room temperature and eliminates the need for hot furnaces and controlled environments, and it makes graphene that may be suitable for electronics or energy storage."
Last week, research engineers at the University of Pennsylvania announced they, "...have now devised a new kind of graphene-based bio-sensor that works in three ways at once. Because proteins trigger three different types of signals, the sensor can triangulate this information to produce more sensitive and accurate results." The researchers pointed out this bio-sensor could be particularly useful in early diagnosis of certain cancers.
Finally at MIT, their researchers have recently announced that crumpling graphene sheets could help in the development of stretchable super capacitors for energy storage in flexible electronic devices. Assistant Mechanical Engineering Professor Xuanhe Zhao, stated, "Many people are exploring graphene paper: Its a good candidate for making super-capacitors because of its large surface area per mass."
These and other latest research developments can be found regularly posted on the universities' web sites.
More about Graphene, developments in grapheme, battery storage, university of california santa barbara, University of Pennsylvania
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