Future Applications of Graphene

Artistic representation of a corrugated graphene sheet (credits Jannik Meyer).

In a recent article published in Nature an international team of authors, comprising the Nobel Prize-winner Kostya Novoselov, originating from the University of Manchester, Lancaster University, Texas Instruments Incorporated, AstraZeneca, BASF and  Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology has described their view on where future applications of graphene may lie in.

The paper details how graphene, isolated for the first time at The University of Manchester by Professor Novoselov and colleague Professor Andre Geim in 2004, has the potential to revolutionize diverse applications from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to anticancer drugs and computer chips. The market of graphene applications is strongly related with the way on how to produce graphene allowing to achieve the appropriate specific properties. There are manifold methods described in the literature, but the authors of the cited work concentrated on these which they considere to be scalable, namely:

  • Liquid phase and thermal exfoliation: exposing graphite to a solvent which splits it into individual flakes of graphene. This method is ideal for energy applications (batteries and supercapacitors) as well as graphene paints and inks for products such as printed electronics, smart windows and electromagnetic shielding. Adding additional functionality to composite materials (extra strength, conductivity, moisture barrier) is another area such graphene can be applied.
  • Chemical Vapor Deposition:  growing graphene films on copper foils, for use in flexible and transparent electronics applications and photonics, among others.
  • Synthesis on Silicon Carbide: growing graphene on either the silicon or carbon faces of this material commonly used for high power electronics. This can result in very high quality graphene with excellently-formed crystals, perfect for high-frequency transistors.

One key application area has been identified to comprise touchscreen devices, such as known from computer tablets and smartphones, which nowadays rely on indium tin oxide. Graphene’s mechanical flexibility and chemical durability are seen to be superior and, hence, may be used to produce more long-lasting and more flexible devices. The authors estimate that the first graphene touchscreen devices could be on the market within three to five years, but will only realize its full potential in flexible electronics applications. Rollable e-paper is another application which could become available as a prototype by 2015 exploiting graphene’s flexibility for fold-up electronic sheets.

As the report further claims, a crucial aspect regards the quality of graphene required which critically determines the timescales of possible applications. These applications which will require the lowest graphene grades will be the first to be successful while these needing higher grades will follow later requiring also decades. For example, the researchers estimate devices including photo-detectors, high-speed wireless communications and THz generators (for use in medical imaging and security devices) would not be available until at least 2020, while anticancer drugs and graphene as a replacement for silicon is unlikely to become a reality until around 2030.

Finally, Novoselov claims that “Graphene is a unique crystal in a sense that it has singlehandedly usurped quite a number of superior properties: from mechanical to electronic. This suggests that its full power will only be realized in novel applications, which are designed specifically with this material in mind, rather than when it is called to substitute other materials in existing applications.”

Press Release: The Graphene-paved Roadmap, 11th of October 2012, University of Manchester
K.S. Novoselov, V.I. Falko, L. Colombo, P.R. Gellert, M.G. Schwab, K. Kim
A Roadmap for Graphene
Nautre, 490, 192 – 200 (October 2012)

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