Graphene is some amazing stuff, with amazing properties that researchers are continually finding new ways to employ.
It is basically a lattice of carbon atoms one atom thick. Called a “wonder material” by the American Physical Society, graphene is “a million times thinner than paper, stronger than diamond, more conductive than copper.” And since it is so thin, it is virtually transparent.
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester (UK) won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene,” according to Wikipedia.
Low-quality graphene occurs naturally; the graphite lead in an ordinary pencil contains layers of flat graphene sheets. But ultrapure, high-quality graphene has been very difficult to make.
Researchers have been able to create small amounts of high-quality graphene or large amounts of low-quality graphene, but not industrial scale quantities of high-quality material. “The commercial development of graphene and related two-dimensional materials is at present restrained by the lack of production techniques ready for industrial scale-up,” James M. Tour, PhD, Rice University (Houston), has written on the subject.
Now, researchers at Trinity College, Dublin, have discovered a way to produce graphene using a high-powered kitchen blender, graphite powder, and an ordinary surfactant such as dishwashing liquid. Their paper has been published in Nature Materials. “Scalable Production of Large Quantities of Defect-Free Few-Layer Graphene by Shear Exfoliation in Liquids” tells how they did it.
Writing for Nature.com’s news blog, Richard Van Noorden spoke with the paper’s senior author, Jonathan Coleman PhD, professor of physics at Trinity College. Coleman told Van Noorden that the recipe involves an undisclosed delicate balance of surfactant and graphite.
And in his laboratory,” Coleman said, “centrifuges, electron microscopes and spectrometers were also used to separate out the graphene and test the outcome.” Van Noorden writes that “In fact, the kitchen-blender recipe was added late in the study as a bit of a gimmick — the main work was done first with an industrial blender.”
But, “(t)his clearly shows that even very crude mixers can produce well exfoliated graphene,” Coleman wrote in the paper. And apparently once you use your blender for graphene experiments, you wouldn’t want to use it for food processing due to the “goop” the process leaves behind.
The research, funded by Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd (Consett, County Durham, UK) has already been patented. Swan has scaled up the process into a pilot plant and, says commercial director Andy Goodwin, hopes to be making a kilogram of graphene a day by the end of this year. Swan intends to sell the graphene as a dried powder and as a liquid dispersion from which it may be sprayed onto other materials, Goodwin said.