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Brief Published: 3 Sep 2019

Mainstreaming Super-Material Graphene

Mainstreaming Graphene

Graphene is revered for its remarkable levels of strength, thermal conduction and flexibility, but the super-material is notoriously expensive and complex to produce at scale. As predicted in our Look Ahead 2019, more graphene-enhanced products are coming to market, and scientists are using cost-effective and eco-friendly production methods to make graphene more mainstream.  

  • Graphene from Eucalyptus Trees: Researchers from RMIT University in Australia have developed a method of producing graphene using eucalyptus bark extract – one of the country’s abundant resources. The process is cheaper and more sustainable than current synthesis methods, but produces graphene of the same quality.

    Existing methods include chemical vapour deposition (CVD), a procedure that requires complex equipment and chemistry, and mechanical exfoliation, a harsh and energy-intensive process that uses toxic chemicals. The RMIT team’s ‘green’ chemistry approach avoids the use of toxic reagents and could reduce the cost from $100 to 50 cents per gram. 
  • Graphene from Bacteria: A collaborative project between the University of Rochester in the USA and Delft University in the Netherlands uses bacteria in an inexpensive process that’s also simpler and more eco-friendly. Oxidised graphite is mixed with Shewanella bacteria and left at room temperature overnight. The process happens organically, with no need for toxic chemicals.
  • Graphene from CO2: Scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have found a way to use carbon dioxide (CO2) as a raw material to produce graphene, repurposing the harmful greenhouse gas into a valuable material. The technique is similar to the natural process of photosynthesis and the common CVD method. Under atmospheric pressure and high temperatures up to 1000°C, and with the help of a specially prepared catalyst made of copper and palladium, CO2 and hydrogen gas are converted directly into graphene.

Although in the early stages of development, these new processes open up the far-reaching potential of this exciting material, which has promise across the electronics, automotive, medical and design industries.