Laboratories receive research grants all the time, but not quite like this one: a consortium of companies and research labs (phone giant Nokia is carrying the flag for the electronics researchers in this group) has received a $1.35 billion (emphasis: that's a billion with a "b") grant from future technologies wing of the European Union to develop graphene for practical applications. That is, a bunch of European researchers just received a billion euros to develop the strongest material in the world. A comparable grant has been given to the Human Brain Project, which is working to build a simulated brain.
Though not a new material by any means, graphene has yet to really come into its moment. The term "graphene" was around going back to the 1980s, and the material existed in the lab in some forms at least a decade before that, but it wasn't until the mid-2000s that researchers really started to manipulate and produce it in ways that began to unlock its potential (this research netted the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, by the way). It is a 2-D pure carbon material, a single-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a particular hexagonal pattern that makes it somewhat similar to graphite, if graphite was a good deal more awesome. It is extremely light, an excellent conductor with some interesting optical properties that haven't been fully explored yet, and is something like 300 times stronger than steel.
It's an amazing material, is the point. But as noted above, researchers haven't quite tapped graphene's full potential and that's exactly what this one billion euro investment from the EU hopes to do. Most researchers don't see graphene as replacing most of our conventional materials or radically altering the devices and objects that populate our lives, but it has vast potential to enhance a wide, wide range of materials and products that are already out there. Like iron or plastic or silicon, a lot of materials scientists think graphene is going to be one of those things that quite literally launches an era, like the Industrial Revolution or the Digital Age.
That's why this grant is significant, but don't expect the graphene epoch to kick off overnight. This is a lot of money, but it's also a ten-year research project involving more than 100 research groups. This kind of large-scale collaboration can make for excess bureaucracy and slow going on the research front (particularly at first), but the aim here is holistic. The EU doesn't want to fund just one avenue of research or explore one potential application, but to unlock graphene's potential across industries and economies.
An old article, but a good read on graphene:
What is deemed a practical application? I mean at 300 time the strength of steel and being as light as it is, I wonder why it isn't deemed practical to create bullet proof vests out of graphene. Surely protecting our law enforcement and milltary would be a good practical use for it.
What about creating safer cars, or motor bike gears, so drivers are safer. If the energy from a crash can be dissipated across the whole area of the vehicle, it will ensure people have a better chance of walking away safely from an accident.
Just my few cents worth on practical applications.
Children's toys, maybe my boys won't break them.
But is it safe to breathe?
Yet another reason why America is falling behind...
How about roads made of asphalt reinforced with layers of graphene? No more pot holes!
- Containers that can withstand a lot of force.
- Shielding for protection.
- High strength cabling.
- High strength drill bits.
- High strength mechanical parts.
I think we already know where this stuff needs to be.
We also need to create new inventions that take advantage of this unique and amazing substance.
It's going to be interesting watching this sector grow.
So if it's so awesome at 1 atom thick, what happens when you add a second layer, say by means of a similar hexagonal structure, thus effectively creating graphine cubes? I'm (obviously) no materials scientist, but that would seem to be the next logical question.
ignorantia legis non excusat
This stuff is an answer looking for a problem. You can only make it as a very thin atomic sheet. I guess if I wanted a relatively strong atomic sheet I'd consider using it. But solid metals and plastics are stronger in the conventional sense.
It may get to be used as a series of sheets bonded together, but the strength will be non-homogenous, strong in two orthogonal directions but weak in the third.
What does it cost to make, I wonder?
The problem isn't that they don't know what to do with it. There are obviously many applications for something 300 times harder then steel.
I'm guessing it's pretty expensive/hard to make big pieces of it that can be used for manufacturing. There are probably loads of medical test left as well to make it allowed to use in kids toys etc.
Then there will be graphene coated bullets soon after. Looking after you gun regulations seams like a more long term solution to gun violence?:)
-I dont want to live on this planet anymore
I dislike when articles like this go on about the incredible strength of nanomaterials such as graphene, because, quite simply, they don't (or at least, rarely) translate into macroscopic structural advantages.
@mike.wsm touches on this above, but just to demonstrate what be means about "traditional strength":
This article states graphene is 300x stronger than steel. Strength, as a material property, is defined by the stress levels the material can sustain. Since stress is the ratio of force over cross-sectional area, and since graphene by definition is only a molecule of carbon thick, to support the a 1-kilo mass, you would need a sheet of graphene that's around 20-30m wide (depending on how you define the strength of steel).
As far as structures go, this makes graphene pretty useless. This is also why spider silk, which is 2-3 times "stronger" than steel isn't used to build buildings. There would be potential for it as a high-tension composite material additive, where graphene sheets are embedded in polymer layers (in fact, I would be astonished if some hasn't already tried this), but the basic fact is that graphene alone isn't going to do squat for macrostructures.
Also, @Regen, I don't think coating a bullet in graphene would have much of an effect. The hardness of a monolayer of graphene isn't going to do anything regarding it's armor-penetration potential, and if you stack the graphene, you just end up with graphite (ie, pencil lead), which certainly isn't going to help matters. To pierce armor, you need to prevent the bullet from deforming on contact (which causes it to lose energy), and a layer of graphene is not remotely up to the task.
This isn't to say graphene is useless at all- it has some of the most fascinating electrical and optical properties of any material ever discovered (particularly materials operable outside of a lab). The possibilities for electronics may well prove limitless, because that is a scale where it's strength is incredibly relevant. One of the most dangerous times for an electrical component is manufacturing, because the materials are so sensitive. Now, introduce a component that can be an order of magnitude smaller AND stronger at the same time, and you're talking revolutions. Add to that the continuing discoveries with graphene electrical components that are harnessing quantum effects, and you've got some serious potential. I look forward to more articles documenting the strides in graphene technology that come from this.
Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.