Graphene is a material with an enormous number of properties that make it useful in dozens of sectors, but it is not cheap to produce.
That may change now with a new study indicating that graphene can be created using electricity and waste.
That's right, a new graphene production method developed at Rice University uses what is known as Joule heating to make the material cheap.
With high thermal and electrical conductivity, an ultra-thin profile and incredible resistance, graphene is already opening up some interesting possibilities in the world of materials science. One of the main ways to produce sheets of a thickness atom is through chemical vapor deposition, a process by which a carbon source (typically methane) is pumped into a chamber to force a chemical reaction and leave a layer thin graphene on the surface of a thin substrate.
This can be a laborious and expensive process, so much so that the current commercial price of graphene ranges from $ 67,000 to $ 200,000 per ton. Now they have discovered a way to use all kinds of things as a carbon source to tackle environmental waste at the same time.
The process takes advantage of what is known as instantaneous Joule heating, in which an electric current passes through a conductive material to generate heat. Using this technology to heat any carbon-containing material to around 2,730 C turns garbage into graphene flakes by around 10 milliseconds, while all non-carbon elements become useful gases, since the elements like oxygen and nitrogen leaving the reactor can get trapped.
In this video they explain it:
The most promising aspect of this new technology is the wide range of materials that can be used to generate graphene flakes. The team says that everything from banana peels, carbon, to other food waste and even plastics can act as a carbon source and is used to create graphene in bulk at a fraction of the cost of today's methods.
They have already shown that any solid carbon-based matter, including mixed plastic debris and rubber tires, can be converted to graphene. The generated graphene is called flash graphene and can serve to greatly increase the resistance of concrete in construction.
They are now refining the production process, expanding it over the next two years to work with coal and make it economically a much higher value building material.
The research was published in the journal Nature.