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SURFACE SPOTLIGHT – GRAPHENE Graphene – an insight into this “wonder material” “Wonder material” graphene was first isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov. Their work earned them the 2010 Nobel prize for Physics. The world’s first two-dimensional material, graphene is the thinnest, strongest and most conductive material discovered so far, and has the potential to revolutionise a huge number of diverse applications: from smart phones and ultra-fast broadband to drug delivery systems and computer chips. Over the last decade graphene has captured the attention of scientists and researchers worldwide. It is ultra-light, yet immensely tough. The global market for graphene is reported to have reached $9 million by 2014 with most of these sales being concentrated in the semiconductor, electronics, battery energy and composites industries. In the surface coatings sector it could lead to the development of advanced paints that could both reduce corrosion and increase energy efficiency. A recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan, ’Impact Assessment of Graphene in Key Sectors’, expects market revenues to reach $149.1 million by 2020. Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel, but is incredibly flexible. It is fire resistant yet retains heat. It is a superb conductor, but not even helium can pass through it. According to the University of Manchester, when graphene is used alone or combined with other materials or substances, it has the potential to create incredible future technologies and vastly enhance existing products. Technically, graphene is a crystalline allotrope of carbon with two-dimensional properties. In graphene, carbon atoms are densely packed in a regular sp2-bondedatomic-scale chicken wire (hexagonal) pattern. Graphene can be described as a “one-atom thick layer of graphite”. It is the basic structural element of other allotropes, including graphite, 28 charcoal, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. It can also be considered as an indefinitely large aromatic molecule, the limiting case of the family of flat polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. So what specific benefits will graphene bring to mankind in the near future and the decades to come? The University of Manchester believes that the potential of graphene is limited only by our imagination and highlights the following practical applications: It could revolutionise medicine. Nanotechnology is set to transform medical procedures. Drugs could be delivered to specific targeted cells. Graphene could pave the way for a step change in the treatment of cancer and conditions such as Parkinson’s. It has enormous potential when used as a membrane to separate liquids. It could see huge progress in water purification and treatment in developing countries, and even provide more efficient desalination plants. It can help to make the world a safer place, both in aircraft and automotive technology and through the development of special clothing for the defence industry. It could create sensors that can detect even minute traces of gases or dangerous chemicals, or sustainable food packaging that can let you know when food has gone off. scale graphene production in a costeffective and reproducible manner makes commercialisation a major challenge. To date, graphene has been developed mostly at the laboratory level, as processes like nano-slicing used during industrial-scale production boost costs and hamper the quality of end products. Manufacturers are designing several economical and largescale production processes to ensure that high-quality graphene can be produced within a short time. This can significantly reduce commercialisation challenges.” Its ability to absorb light and retain it as energy, together with its strength and flexibility, means that wearable electronics and clothing that communicates are realistic possibilities. Harnessed with polymers and composites, it could make numerous forms of transport safer and more fuel efficient. However, Technical Insights Research Analyst Sanchari Chatterjee at Frost & Sullivan introduces a note of caution: “Despite the potential of graphene, the absence of large- December 2015 Sources: www.manchester.ac.uk www.wikipedia.com www.technicalinsights.frost.com follow us on twitter @surfaceworldmag