Even though its two discoverers already share a Nobel Physics Prize, is graphene that wonder material that’s desperately seeking commercial applications?
By: Ringo Bones
Even though the properties of this so-called wonder material is already familiar to materials researchers as far back as 1947, it wasn’t until the 1970s that two Manchester University physicists, Prof. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov developed a method to consistently synthesize the one-atom-thick-carbon wonder material now known as graphene, which eventually allowed them to share the 2010 Nobel Physics Prize. Given that it is 207 times stronger than steel and is a very good conductor of heat and electricity, the wonder material grapheme has defied commercial exploitation because of a lack of an economically viable way to synthesize and manufacture it, until now.
Known as the “first lady of graphene”, Catharine Paukner, CEO and founder of Cambridge Nanosystems had recently developed an economically viable method to produce graphene on a mass scale. Using methane extracted from communal landfills and cow flatulence, Paukner has managed to convert this potent greenhouse gas (one molecule methane has 25 times the greenhouse warming effect of a single molecule of carbon dioxide) into something useful – the famed wonder material graphene.
Already in the planning stage, Catharine Paukner’s large-scale methane to graphene plant, based on the workings of a domestic kitchen microwave oven, will be able to produce 5-metric tons of graphene a year. As a wonder material with hundreds of potential very lucrative commercial uses since it was extensively studied in the past 25 years, graphene still elude practical everyday applications due to the difficulty of producing it in quantity at a cost-effective manner. Ultra-light carbon composites more than 200 times stronger than steel for electric powered aircraft applications and replacement body parts are just some of the commercial applications that could make graphene production a potential multi-billion dollar a year industry.