Irish scientists develop low-cost way to produce graphene

21 Jan 2022

Image: © Forance/Stock.adobe.com

Researchers created a biocompatible graphene ink and used household printers to make electronic components.

Scientists in Ireland have developed a new low-cost method to produce graphene, which could accelerate adoption of the strong and light ‘wonder material’.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics and AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for advanced materials, teamed up with colleagues in the UK and Norway to develop a scalable graphene production method.

Future Human

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon. It is considered to be the world’s thinnest and strongest material, and there are many potential applications due to its flexibility and conductivity.

In a study published in the Nature journal 2D Materials and Applications, the research team created graphene inks and used a household ink-jet printer to make conductive interconnects and lithium-ion battery anode composites. These could potentially be used to connect a battery to a textile sensor, which would have applications in areas such as wearable electronics and medical diagnostic devices.

“We have demonstrated energy storage composites and printed electronic components in our work, however there are many more applications that could be achieved with the graphene inks, such as reinforcement composites or printed sensors,” lead author Dr Tian Carey said.

Trinity nanoscientist Prof Jonathan Coleman previously created nanocomposites of graphene with polymers including those found in rubber bands and silly putty. Last year, his team created a graphene ink blend with excellent mechanical and electrical properties, giving it potential in the wearables space.

Coleman said the latest study has adapted this graphene research further for industrial application, and shown “we can produce high-quality graphene at low cost in a highly efficient manner that is easily scalable”.

Graphene production is known to have high start-up and labour costs. With this new method, researchers said the cost could be reduced to £20 per litre once scaled up. This could lead to the production of multi-tonne quantities if successfully commercialised, far exceeding the world’s current graphene supply.

 

Image showing the graphene production process.

Schematic of the in-line shear mixing process. Image: AMBER

The study’s approach is based on the process of the exfoliation of graphite – an abundant bulk material commonly found in pencils – that is made up of layers of graphene.

Alongside researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, Newcastle University and Norway’s University of Stavanger, the team found a process to exfoliate graphene flakes from graphite with minimal defects.

Building on this method, the researchers were able to make a high-quality graphene ink. The team also tested to ensure the graphene had no toxicity, give that it could have applications in wearable electronics, textile electronics, composites and printed interconnects that could involve human contact with the material.

“Graphene is just one example of a conductive 2D material; there are hundreds other lesser-known 2D materials which have different but complementary electronic behaviour that we can apply this process to and create a suite of inks with different but complementary properties,” Carey added.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com