Ultra-strong and self-healing copycat material graphene has been the subject of intense excitement since Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselo extracted it from bulk graphite in 2004, earning them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. Now, an international team of physicists led by Novoselo has published a paper laying out a timeline of future uses for the incredibly versatile material, which includes its role in anticancer drugs and rollable e-paper.
“A roadmap for graphene”, published in the journal Nature, proves that the one atom-thin super-conductive material has plenty of future uses outside of electronics, though it will be an integral part of the imminent future development of devices. That’s because the type of graphene needed for things like touchscreens is of a lower, more easily manufactured quality.
“Different applications require different grades of graphene and those which use the lowest grade will be the first to appear, probably as soon as in a few years,” said Novoselov. “Those which require the highest quality may well take decades.” The latter includes applications like anticancer drugs (its minute size, strength, chemical durability and adaptability makes it an ideal conduit for drug delivery) and using graphene as a silicon replacement, which the paper envisions occurring around 2030.
In 2010 a paper was published suggesting that nano-graphene oxide sheets be used in medical imaging, as they are photoluminescent and thus useful in near-infrared imaging. According to Novoselov’s timeline, this will become a reality around 2020 — at about the same time we begin to see graphene in high speed wireless communication and security devices.
In the near future, we will see graphene being used as a replacement for indium tin oxide in touchscreen devices in the next three to five years, with flexible touchscreen “rollable e-paper” emerging by 2015 — imagine folding up a browser and popping it in your pocket, and office printers becoming all but redundant. A team at Rice University has already begun trialling graphene touchscreens by growing a fine sheet of graphene onto a metal grid of nanowires, and Samsung has demonstrated similar prototypes.
The paper also details the three main methods for extracting graphene. Liquid phase and thermal exfoliation will be suitable for batteries, supercapactiors, printed electronics, smart windows and electromagnetic shielding. The process basically gives us either graphene flakes or paints, with the latter ideal for easily adding strength or conductivity to a secondary material. Chemical vapour deposition is a process by which the material is grown onto copper foils, ideal for flexible touchscreens. The third technique is synthesis on silicon carbide, where graphene is grown on silicon or carbon to produce high quality layers of graphene crystals (useful in high frequency transistors).
If we are to reap the huge potential benefits of the atomic crystal, the paper’s authors say, we need to see investment in innovation in these areas. The material is so versatile, there will surely be plenty more uses we’ve not yet thought of. A team in China has just put forward a method of using graphene foam to generate flexible, durable batteries — made using chemical vapour deposition to grow the graphene on a metal grid to make a mesh. So, from the looks of it, graphene, in all its foamy, liquid and solid forms will be coating everything in our universe in the future.