Sunday, December 8, 2013

The revolutionary possibility of graphene

About a month ago (Nov 12) I did a post on the amazing experiments in electrical storage using supercapacitors made of graphene. These devices threaten to make even sophisticated batteries like lithium-ion look hopelessly primitive.

In a world where folks wonder why there aren't more political movements that promise revolutions, it is comforting to know that a real revolution that can actually address a problem like climate change will not be formulated in a Paris or Zurich coffee house but in a material science lab.  Those who lament the "missing" revolutions forget that the vast majority of folks who called themselves revolutionaries were nothing but BS artists. The only revolution that accomplished much of anything was the industrial revolution.

This was the revolution that determined what was possible. It determined how large the economic pie could grow. Since the only economics worth organizing a revolution around are the questions of working conditions and the material conditions of life, the thinkers who actually changed things (Newcomen, Bessemer, Edison, Ford, etc.) were the real revolutionaries while folks like Marx, Mao, Robespierre, etc. changed nothing or actually made things worse because they were Leisure Class frauds.

And that is the unfortunate truth—no matter how concerned someone is for the poor, if that person doesn't respect the industrial revolution, his revolutionary rhetoric is just a cheap excuse for senseless murder.  And while you are at it, ask yourself, "Who is more likely to give us a way out of the fossil fuel trap—someone perfecting electrical storage with graphene or some concerned 'activist' chaining himself to the White House fence?"

Graphene Is Going to Change the World

Brent Matsalla on December 7, 2013.

Graphene is grown on a large crystaline structure of a copper substrate. Graphene is the thinnest and strongest substance known and possibilities of using graphene will revolutionize the world.

Graphene is the world’s lightest and strongest material and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado has just realized that it is going to change the world as we know it.

Researchers at the Institute have recently devised a method of generating the extremely thin material on copper film. As rare-earth-metals become more and more expensive and scarce, graphene might provide the solution to a myriad of technologies.

Some uses of graphene range from the inclusion in electronics, sensors, and solar cells to increasing speeds of the Internet, and medical technologies. The reason the thin material is just making an appearance now, is due to it being too difficult to produce in the thin layers required. That is, until the NIST researchers made their huge discovery.

To create the extremely thin layer of graphene, the NIST team used a two-step process. First, copper is deposited on sapphire wafers which are at room temperature. Then it is annealed at the melting temperature of the copper. The process of annealing consists of a heat treatment that alters the material to make it more ductile and workable. The annealing process is most common in material sciences in metallurgy. By using this two-step process, the NIST team was successful in growing graphene grains on the copper substrate that were only 0.2 millimeters in size.

NIST researcher, Mark Keller, stated that in the past the problems they encountered were most of the films had the inability to survive the stage of graphene growth needed to produce wafer-scale graphene devices.

The most promising use for the graphene production is for using it in new electronic circuits and optical devices. Both uses would require very thin profiles and NIST’s latest discovery is likely going to change the world of electronics and optics in the near future.

The amazing potential of graphene has been know for a while, but its production in the thin profile was thought to be impossible. Graphene is the strongest material known to date and coupled with its properties of being a great conductor of electricity will make it more than perfect for use in electronics and electronic device production.

Graphene has the potential of being grown to a mere thickness of only one atom. To say the substance is space-age is not telling a lie, as future astronauts will be able to explore space in much thinner and stronger graphene space suits.

The amazing properties of graphene don’t just stop there. Graphene is nontoxic, inexpensive and completely transparent. When combined with its ability to conduct electricity, these features would make it perfect for use in the future production of solar cells. The graphene would allow light to shine through it, while still being able to conduct the electronic flow required for solar cells to operate more efficiently.

What aided the NIST discovery was the copper substrate itself. Previously scientists had challenges in making graphene due to the high heat that was needed while other substrates would fail before the graphene would grow. The copper used in the NIST study contains crystalline grains that are massive in comparison to any microelectronic standards. The bulk of the crystalline grains were big enough to survive the high temperatures required for the graphene to grow. The ideal film thickness of graphene is less than one micrometer and the crystalline copper grains are about 10,000 times larger.

This graphene growth process at NIST may just be one of the most important discoveries to advance the technology world. Many materials that high-tech manufacturers are accustomed to are now going to change. more

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