Brett Smith, AZo Materials
A layer of carbon just one atom thick, graphene is already proving to be a ‘wonder material’ with countless possible applications.
Graphene’s usefulness derives from its extreme strength, flexibility, unique honeycomb structure and capacity to conduct electricity. Consider the following ways this odd form of carbon could revolutionize modern life.
Chip engineers are constantly racing to boost processing power and make chips smaller without considerably increasing the operating temperature. Graphene-based transistors appear to be capable of functioning at much quicker speeds while minimizing heat at a microscopic scale.
The high electrical conductivity, extreme thinness and high durability of graphene makes a solid candidate for the creation of microscopic biosensors, which could track anything from glucose levels in patients to DNA sequencing.
Graphene could also find use in medical treatment applications, like use as an antibiotic or anticancer treatment.
For a material to be useful in optoelectronic applications, it must be capable of transmitting greater than 90 percent of light and provide low electrical resistance. Graphene is almost totally transparent, capable of transmitting nearly 98 percent of light. It is also highly conductive and therefore would work very well in optoelectronic applications like LCD touchscreens.
Researchers from the University of Manchester have used graphene to create material so thin and flexible, it can absorb sunlight to generate electricity at the same rates as solar panels. The discovery could result in entire buildings being powered by electricity generated from sunlight absorbed by exterior walls.
Better Hair Dyes
Graphene could find use as a safer alternative to hair dyes used in salons, most of which are toxic. In a 2018 study, scientists from Northwestern University found graphene can match the performance of hair dyes without the use of organic solvents or toxic molecular ingredients.
Making Seawater Drinkable
By being used to desalinate seawater, graphene could help resolve a lack of potable water in developing areas or situations where drinking water is polluted. Membranes made from graphene can allow water to pass through but filter out sea salt. In fact, one study found graphene is so effective at filtering seawater, it rendered water specimens from Sydney Harbor in Australia safe to drink after one pass through.
Graphene could make glowing walls a useful alternative to light bulbs. Radiant "wallpaper" made from graphene could provide more pleasing, variable light across a room than conventional light bulbs, and be more energy-efficient.
Stronger, Lighter Protective Gear
Given the extremely thin and strong nature of graphene, an obvious use would be the development of stronger, lighter protective equipment, such as sports helmets and bulletproof vests. Scientists have discovered that sheets of graphene are capable of absorbing twice as much force as Kevlar, commonly used in bulletproof vests.
Fuel from Thin Air
Graphene might also be used to make fuel based on hydrogen pulled from the air. Researchers have found graphene can be used to extract hydrogen atoms that are stripped of their electrons from the air. The discovery means graphene films might be used to vastly boost the efficiency of proton-conducting membranes, which are crucial in fuel-cell technology.
Better Food Packaging
Plastic packaging may seem impermeable, but water molecules are able to pass through. This small degree of permeability can seriously limit the lifespan of commercial goods. To better protect moisture-sensitive items like electronics and medicines, researchers created a new type of packaging based on a single layer of graphene. A 2016 report in the journal ACS Nano noted that this material decreases the amount of water passing through a package by a million times.