Graphene (Gr) has emerged as one of the most versatile and promising nanomaterials. Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has become a super-material, revolutionizing fields from electronics to telecommunications to aerospace to automotive to healthcare. Indeed, graphene has come a long way.
However, very little has been done in terms of regulations and standards, until now. The Graphene Flagship Standardization Committee (GFSC) has recently launched its new Standardization Certificate, which is the first of its kind.
The award recognizes and pays tribute to the efforts and expertise of those who have contributed to the development of an international standard or technical specification in the field of graphene and other related materials. The aim of the award is to standardize commercial graphene.
Graphene global market projections
Valued at around $35 million in 2018, the global graphene market size is predicted to reach over $150 million by 2021 and, according to a report published in January 2020 by market research company Global Market Insights Inc., the graphene market is going to increase to $406 million by 2026.
The electronics and semiconductor industry is considered the prime factor bolstering the global graphene market growth. Factors that are expected to fuel the rapid growth of the graphene market include growing purchasing power and increasing consumer electronics demands, with mobile phones and tablets topping the list.
In addition, graphene oxide-based transparent conductive films are used as a raw material in the automotive industry in an attempt to strengthen vehicle structures, and manufacture greener and lighter cars.
Reducing the overall weight of the vehicle reduces the fuel consumption and emits less carbon emissions, adding extra environmental benefits. Furthermore, additional demand will come from the aerospace and defense industry.
Graphene's exceptional conductive and heat-carrying properties create opportunities in next-generation electronics such as batteries and solar panels.
The continuous global research and development activities as well as large scale graphene production through renewable sources --in particular the use of value-added chemicals-- are expected to give the industry enormous opportunities for faster growth in the upcoming years.
According to Global Market Insights' analysts, the graphene market outlook is at a nascent stage, and is expected to gain significant penetration on a broad range of industries in the following years, with graphene oxide being the most popular product segment.
Graphene: The most versatile substance available to mankind
Graphene is a two-dimensional atomic crystal made up of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice.
Thanks to graphene's unique combination of superior properties, this super material is a credible starting point for new disruptive technologies across a wide range of fields.
Graphene is like a giant molecule that is available for chemical modification, with potential for a wide variety of applications, ranging from electronics to composite materials.
One atom thick (a million times thinner than a human hair)
The strongest compound discovered (between 100-300 times stronger than steel)
The lightest material known (with one square meter, or about 10.8 square feet weighing approximately 0,77 milligrams, or about 0.0119 grains)
Impermeable to molecules
Highly electrically and thermally conductive – graphene enables electrons to flow much faster than silicon
It is a transparent conductor
It combines electrical and optical functionalities in an exceptional way
The main problem with the lack of regulation and standards is that certain suppliers sell fake graphene. These fakes never meet the unique properties of the Nobel Prize-winning two-dimensional material. This prompted the need to create graphene regulations and standards.
According to Jari Kinaret, Director of the Graphene Flagship, "the absence of standards has been a major obstacle to the commercialization of graphene and layered materials. The work of the Graphene Flagship Standardization Committee lays the groundwork for overcoming this challenge."
Graphene standardization: On needs and challenges
When it comes to graphene, discrepancies in the consistency and quality of a starting material can have vast negative effects on product performance. Lack of standards in the graphene market causes problems for both research and industry.
According to Christian Punckt, senior researcher at Graphene Flagship partner Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany, most of the commercial graphene that is sold online does not comprise ideal, two-dimensional flakes of single-layer graphene. Punckt says that an overwhelming majority of online suppliers sell flakes under the name graphene with little-to-no consistency in terms of thickness or purity.
The simple reason for this is that there are no universal standards dictating the quality or number of layers that a material needs to have in order to be sold as graphene.
Without these standards, there is no regulation on the market. This means that industries that are about to make their first foray into the field must be extra careful when purchasing raw materials from online suppliers.
Established standards can catalyse innovation, increase efficiency and reduce costs, lower risks, as well as improving the likelihood of a product making it to the market. The lack of standards in graphene is therefore, a significant hindrance to graphene research and innovation; and this must be addressed.
According to Christian Punckt, the importance of the Graphene Flagship's Standardization Committee is that the initiative seeks to define a set of consistent and reliable standards for graphene over the years to come.
Challenges: A few considerations
- Lack of a universally agreed-upon definition:
"The technical definition of graphene is simply monolayer carbon: A one atom-thin sheet of carbon atoms," Christian Punckt says. According to Punckt, ideal monolayer graphene is the focal point of many of the Graphene Flagship's Work Packages and Spearhead Projects, and is the key to graphene's emergence in the multi-billion-Euro photonics and electronics markets.
But producing monolayer graphene on a large scale is expensive, and for many researchers, multilayer flakes, which are significantly cheaper and more widely available, are perfectly suitable. Christian Punckt proposes an analogy: "When you write with a pencil, the mark on the paper will contain some graphene. But in this case, the existence of perfect monolayer graphene is unnecessary, because you just need the pencil trace to be black."
- Scientists need to develop more suitable ways to characterize graphene, both during and after the production process:
"An example of this is graphene produced by chemical vapour deposition. Researchers are trying to accurately determine the graphene's structure and properties as it grows," says Christian Punckt. The most common technique to evaluate graphene's quality is Raman spectroscopy, which has now become a standard in industry, and Graphene Flagship scientists are hopeful that it will be the key to analyzing graphene mid-production.
Similarly, scientists need to develop better methods to determine the chemical properties of the graphene oxide powders used to make polymer composites. "We can use a technique called X-Ray photoelectron spectroscopy, but it is often complicated and expensive. Quick spectroscopic measurements would be better, but these need to be developed further," Christian Punckt says.
- Many applications of graphene are only just emerging, so a lot of the key control characteristics and key performance indicators have not yet been established:
"We need detailed information about the property–performance relationships in graphene, many of which are not fully known or understood yet," says Christian Punckt.
Scientists creating graphene-based polymer composites with a focus on mechanical strength must devote a lot of effort in terms of planning and development in order to determine the optimum type of graphene that results in the most desirable mechanical properties.
- Perspective of the sellers:
"Graphene is used as a marketing term," Christian Punckt says. "If we were to grade graphene based on surface quality and number of layers, 'Grade A' graphene would, of course, sell better than lower grades. So, this sort of scheme is unlikely to be agreed upon. This is not unjustified: Graphene of allegedly lower grades would indeed be the best choice for certain applications.
According to Punckt, transistors and batteries have near opposite requirements when it comes to structure and quality of the material. "We need to define a graphene classification scheme that is clear and quantifiable, and that satisfies both researchers and commercial graphene sellers. This really highlights the importance of the Graphene Flagship's Standardization Committee," says Christian Punckt.
The Graphene Flagship Standardization Committee
Basically, the Committee acts as the link between Graphene Flagship research and the international standardization committees, ISO and IEC. Members of the Graphene Flagship Committee are granted personal membership of ISO Technical Committee 229 (Nanotechnologies), and formally liaise with IEC Technical Committee 113 (Nanotechnology for Electrotechnical Products and Systems).
In total, over 35 graphene-related standardization projects have so far published documents describing graphene-related international standards or technical specifications, nine of which were led by the Graphene Flagship Standardization Committee.
According to Christian Punckt, this is the first strong step in the right direction, and the Committee hopes that this first set of documents, which provides a set of agreed-upon standards for graphene and layered materials will set a precedent.
There is still a long way to go before a universal set of standards for graphene is in place, but these documents will be the first of many. "We hope that these standards will help to establish trust and confidence from industry, opening the door for more graphene-based materials and layered materials to be standardized – facilitating the commercial adoption of graphene technologies," says Christian Punckt.
The GFSC Standardization Certificate and first ever Awards
Standardization of graphene was recently discussed by members of the Committee in the recent Conference Graphene for . . . Research, Innovation, Collaboration. Beyond single layer graphene, the industry sometimes needs other specifications, even different types of layered materials. Some products, such as photonic and electronic devices, need pure, mono-layer graphene whereas others, such as composites and functional materials, may also benefit from using cheaper alternatives. Either way, standardization is always crucial.
Graphene producers need to be transparent about what they sell, and users ought to know exactly what they are buying. Thus, the Graphene Flagship Standardization Committee works tirelessly to define a set of consistent and reliable standards for graphene and other layered materials –be it the terminology, or the definition of key control characteristics and their measurement methods, both fundamental for industry uptake of graphene.
The GFSC's first Standardization Certificate is the result of a combined effort to standardize the manufacture, characterization, and commercialization of graphene. The Standardization Certificate represents a quality seal for scientists and institutions that have contributed to pioneering standardization projects.
According to the Graphene Flagship, the GFSC Standardization Certificate is the first of its kind. It will surely encourage other national and international projects to follow the lead, showing their appreciation for the work in standardization and regulation.
According to Thurid Gspann, from Graphene Flagship partner Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, who chairs the GFSC and coordinates the Standardization team within Work Package 19 – Industrialization, the launch of the GFSC Standardization Certificate will set a milestone for the appreciation of standardization work.
"So far, the scientific community's interest in contributing to standardization is limited, as international standardization committees cannot highlight individuals for the authorship of standards. The Graphene Flagship now can, and I am sure we will soon see other projects continue on our path," she says.
Together with the creation of the certificates, the GFSC also announced the first ever recipients of this recognition: Peter Uhd Jepsen, from Graphene Flagship partner DTU, Denmark, and Elena Taboada, from das-Nano, Spain, for successfully leading a standardization project to measure graphene film sheet resistance by Tera-Hertz time domain spectroscopy; and Marcus Klein from Sugarus, Germany, for spearheading the standardization of the Eddy current method, also to measure graphene film sheet resistance.