Despite all the excitement around graphene, all its properties and the promises of scientists, you may be surprised that this material is still not widely used. As it turned out, this is not surprising. An international team of scientists analyzed samples of graphene produced by 60 companies around the world and came to the conclusion that they are all actually engaged in the production and sale of not ultra-thin carbon-based material, for the invention of which its creators received the Nobel Prize, but ordinary garbage, which they also sell at exorbitant prices.
Graphene really has great potential and has the potential to revolutionize technology. However, a study published in the journal Advanced Materials says that the universal international standards for the production of this material are arbitrarily interpreted by its manufacturers. Comparing what is considered to be graphene among scientists with what companies produce and sell on the market, the researchers found that in fact the share of graphene in these materials does not exceed 50 percent, and in most cases it is even less – less than 10 percent.
The findings are truly shocking when you consider how much hope has been pinned on the actual material. Scientists in Advanced Materials journal write:
“It is very disturbing that manufacturers call black dust graphene and sell for a lot of money, but in reality the material they sell is mostly cheap graphite. This behavior severely damages the reputation of the entire industry and has a negative impact on serious developers and manufacturers of graphene. Real development of the graphene production industry is possible only through the standardization of the production process and the implementation of appropriate protocols. “
In 2004, Russian scientists Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester published a paper in the journal Science, where they reported on the preparation of graphene on an oxidized silicon substrate. In 2010, scientists received the Nobel Prize for this discovery. The one atom thick material that scientists created is incredibly strong, and its electrical properties can make it useful in the manufacture of screens, phones, solar panels and other electronics that we use every day.
Initially, the production of graphene was carried out literally with scotch tape. Pieces of graphite were placed between sticky tapes and split over and over again, creating rather thin layers. After peeling off, the adhesive tape with thin films of graphite was pressed against the oxidized silicon substrate. But this type of production turned out to be not scalable, so companies began to produce graphene by depositing carbon atoms in the form of a film or cutting off graphite chips of a certain thickness and then forming a layer. In addition, there are other ways.
In a new study, co-authored by Novoselov, the scientists looked only at the liquid-phase exfoliation method used in the mass production of graphene. Researchers define graphene as carbon sheets no more than 10 atoms thick, because otherwise the material loses its useful properties. After analyzing samples of graphene produced by 60 companies from all over the world in the laboratory, scientists found that all of their graphene was fake. All samples contained less than 50 percent of real graphene, while in a third of the samples this figure was even lower – less than 10 percent. In this case, all samples had from 10 to 1000 layers of atoms. Moreover, real graphene should be 100 percent carbon, and the samples under study contained traces of other compounds.
“Our extensive study of global graphene production has shown that there is virtually no high-grade, pure graphene on the market whose chemical composition is accepted and described by the International Organization for Standardization,” the scientists say.
Physicist Peter Böggild of the Danish Technical University, who was not involved in this study, commented on these findings to the journal Nature, comparing the situation to “a world in which antibiotics can be produced and sold by anyone, since there are no standards.” In this case, no one will buy these antibiotics. And maybe that’s why we still haven’t witnessed the consumer electronics revolution that graphene promised us.
“This work is a direct call for graphene researchers, producers and buyers to agree and accept the necessary standards. A transparent market for the production of graphene will benefit absolutely everyone, with the exception, perhaps, of unscrupulous suppliers, ”the scientist writes.
Baggild also notes that the study does not indicate how the scientists selected the companies – perhaps some manufacturers who create a truly high-quality product were not included. At the same time, the physicist adds that this study is another example of the importance of quality control in this evolving area.
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