Graphene - the new wonder material
The molecule is priceless but it is not a matter of cost – a few hundred dollars per kilo. The value lies in its potential. The molecule in question is called graphene and the EU is prepared to devote €1bn ($1.3bn) to it between 2013 and 2023 to find out if it can transform a range of sectors such as electronics, energy, health and construction. According to Scopus, the bibliographic database, more than 8,000 papers have been written about graphene since 2005.
As its name indicates, graphene is extracted from graphite, the material used in pencils. Like graphite, graphene is entirely composed of carbon atoms and 1mm of graphite contains some 3 million layers of graphene. Whereas graphite is a three-dimensional crystalline arrangement, graphene is a two-dimensional crystal only an atom thick. The carbons are perfectly distributed in a hexagonal honeycomb formation only 0.3 nanometres thick, with just 0.1 nanometres between each atom.
This 100% pure carbon simplicity confers some remarkable properties on graphene, very close to the calculated theoretical ones, as observed by the authors of A Roadmap for Graphene published in Nature last year.
Graphene conducts electricity better than copper. It is 200 times stronger than steel but six times lighter. It is almost perfectly transparent since it only absorbs 2% of light. It impermeable to gases, even those as light as hydrogen or helium, and, if that were not enough, chemical components can be added to its surface to alter its properties.
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