Manufacturing Graphene for 99 Percent Lower Cost

Process for generating graphene sheets uses low-cost copper.

Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made from carbon atoms.

Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made from carbon atoms.

Graphene has yet to see widespread industrial use because of its high production cost, but that may soon change.

A process for creating graphene sheets using commercially available copper cuts production costs to one percent of what they are now.

Making Graphene Cheaper

Graphene sheets are produced by a process called chemical vapor deposition (CVD), which turns gaseous reactants into a film of graphene on a substrate.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow used a similar process to create high-quality graphene across the surface of copper foil, which is normally used in lithium-ion batteries. They reported that the ultra-smooth surface of the copper provided an excellent bed for deposited graphene.

“The commercially-available copper we used in our process retails for around one dollar per square meter compared to around $115 for a similar amount of the copper currently used in graphene production,” said Dr. Ravinder Dahiya, co-author of the published research.

He added that, “This more expensive form of copper often required preparation before it can be used, adding further to the cost of the process.”

Graphene Applications

The researchers also reported that transistors made from their graphene showed a significant improvement in electrical and optical performance compared to similar materials produced with previous methods.

“Our process produces high-quality graphene at low cost, taking us one step closer to creating affordable new electronic devices with a wide range of applications, from the smart cities of the future to mobile healthcare,” said Dahiya.

The potential applications for graphene produced at an industrial scale are indeed staggering. The researchers’ primary interest lies in using graphene to create an artificial skin for prosthetics but the implications of their research extend much further than that.

Here are just a few applications for graphene:

Electronics

  • Transistors: Graphene transistors operating at 26GHz have been printed on flexible plastic suitable for communications circuits that can be fabricated at scale.
  • Supercapacitors: Recently tested graphene microsupercapacitors were shown to be stable over 12,000 charge/discharge cycles, retaining 90 percent of their capacitance.
  • Optoelectronics: Potential uses include transparent films, touchscreen displays and light emitters.
  • Optical modulators: Prototypes have already been constructed that operate at 1.2GHz without a temperature controller.

Energy

  • Photovoltaic cells: Solar cells made with graphene have demonstrated a 60 percent increase in conversion efficiency compared to those made with silicon.
  • Condenser coating: Graphene quadruples condenser efficiency.

Manufacturing

  • Distillation: A happy accident revealed that graphene can be used to distill vodka to higher alcohol concentrations at room temperature.
  • Lubrication: A one-atom-thick layer of graphene between a steel ball and a steel disc lasts for 6,500 cycles; conventional lubricants last 1,000 cycles.
  • Coolant Additive: Adding 5 percent graphene by volume to a base fluid enhances its thermal conductivity by 85percent.

If the price of graphene is the only thing holding us back, advancements like these could be just around the corner.

For more information, view the paper online.