New graphene production process could accelerate global supply

15 Dec 2016

Graphene illustration. Image: sakkmesterke/Shutterstock

Graphene continues to captivate both materials scientists and the public alike, and now a newly harnessed method of production could greatly accelerate its availability in the years to come.

At just one atom in thickness, graphene has been heralded as the wonder material of the future for its ability to be conductive, incredibly malleable and strong – all the things you want in advanced electronic devices.

The only problem, however, has been that while a number of breakthroughs and potential uses have been discovered in recent years, such as graphene-infused putty, it remains unfeasible for manufacturers to use on a grand scale.

This could soon change with the breakthrough production technique made by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Graphene Science, which believes its new model could be the key to mass-producing the material.

According to the team’s research published in the journal 2D Materials, its method is based on creating entire device arrays directly on the copper substrates used for the commercial manufacture of graphene.

Once this has been achieved, complete and fully functional devices can then be transferred to a substrate of choice, such as silicon, plastics or even textiles.

Using current methods of producing graphene – derived from graphite and the same material that makes the ‘lead’ of a pencil – requires a number of different steps, including graphene growth and film transfer, as well as lithographic patterning and metal contact deposition.

All of this makes the entire process not only time-consuming, but also particularly expensive for anyone trying to produce it on a grand scale.

A concerted global effort

“Our new approach is much simpler and has the very real potential to open up the use of cheap-to-produce graphene devices for a host of important applications, from gas and biomedical sensors to touch-screen displays,” said Prof David Wright, one of the authors of the paper.

To showcase its creation, the team produced a flexible and completely transparent graphene-oxide-based humidity sensor.

Unlike older methods, the team said this would cost just a few cent to produce, using common wafer-scale or roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques – yet it can outperform currently available commercial sensors.

This breakthrough marks a continued global effort bring graphene into the real world, following on from efforts that range from using silkworms to create tougher silk, to using a synthetic diamond material to create graphene with fewer impurities.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic