[Image Source: AlexanderAlUS,,Wikipedia]
Many people are familiar with silicon, but it appears that a new wonder material called graphene could replace it in all kinds of different industries. Graphene is a one atom-thick material that conducts electricity better than silver, conducts heat better than diamonds and is stronger than steel. Electrons can travel across graphene at almost the speed of light, nearly 250 times faster than they move through silicon. Its strength is due to its tightly packed hexagonal arrangement of carbon atoms. Graphene is the only form of carbon in which every atom is available for chemical reaction from two sides.
To understand what graphene is, watch this SciShow video.
Graphene could revolutionize these areas: super-fast computing, solar panels, incredibly light wearables, flexible phones, circuits, transistors and it could lead to batteries with way more capacity than today’s power packs. This could mean smartphones would only need to be charged once per week as opposed to daily. Houses, buildings, cars and clothing could be coated with graphene-encapsulated photovoltaic solar cells to usher in a new era of renewable energy. Monitors and phones could become flexible and paper-thin. Computers could become too fast for us to keep up. Think of what could happen with the intersection of advanced AI and ridiculously fast computing. The amount of things and industries it has the potential to revolutionize is staggering and it could even become an integral player in the Internet of Things. Many futurists have predicted that the glass smartphones of today will be replaced by flexible screens tomorrow.
Here’s what phones could look like in the future of a graphene-dominant world:
So, why hasn’t graphene been made into commercially available products yet? There’s huge difference between discovering a potential material and a workable technology. Right now there exists two major problems with graphene: mass production and band-gap. It’s difficult to manufacture graphene in pure form over a large surface area. There are a number of different methods currently being tested. Also, the edges of graphene tend to fray which causes brittleness. In addition to not being easily manufactured, there’s a shortage of naturally occurring, defect-free graphene in the earth. Also, graphene is pricey in its natural form.
And as for band-gap, Dr. Kevin Curran explains,
“Currently graphene transistors are difficult to turn off, and that can be a game-stopper because in digital electronics you need the off-state to block current flow, and to have no dissipation when the transistor is in the off-state. This is known as the ‘bandgap’ problem.” ~ TechRadar
So, for graphene to completely replace silicon, the on-off state has to be resolved. The problems with mass production also need to be solved. These could take many years and may not even be possible to do. But that’s not stopping the increasingly long line of companies who are banking on the success of graphene from queueing up. Some of the companies involved in dedicating resources to the development of graphene are: FlexEnable, Nokia, Airbus, Philips, Alcatel Lucent, BASF, Ericsson and BAE. This is just a very partial list.