A breakthrough on paper that's stronger than steel

Apr 20, 2011 by Lisa Aloisio
A graphene paper sample. Picture by Lisa Aloisio

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Technology, Sydney scientists have reported remarkable results in developing a composite material based on graphite that is a thin as paper and ten times stronger than steel.

In work recently published in the , a UTS research team supervised by Professor Guoxiu Wang has developed reproducible test results and nanostructural samples of paper, a material with the potential to revolutionise the automotive, aviation, electrical and optical industries.

Graphene paper (GP) is a material that can be processed, reshaped and reformed from its original raw material state - . Researchers at UTS have successfully milled the raw graphite by purifying and filtering it with chemicals to reshape and reform it into nano-structured configurations which are then processed into sheets as thin as paper.

These graphene nanosheet stacks consist of monolayer hexagonal carbon lattices and are placed in perfectly arranged laminar structures which give them exceptional thermal, electrical and .

Using a synthesised method and heat treatment, the UTS research team has produced material with extraordinary bending, rigidity and hardness mechanical properties. Compared to steel, the prepared GP is six times lighter, five to six times lower density, two times harder with 10 times higher tensile strength and 13 times higher bending rigidity.

Lead researcher Ali Reza Ranjbartoreh said, "No one else has used a similar production and heat testing method to find and carry out such exceptional mechanical properties for graphene paper. We are definitely well ahead of other research societies."

"The exceptional mechanical properties of synthesised GP render it a promising material for commercial and engineering applications.

"Not only is it lighter, stronger, harder and more flexible than steel it is also a recyclable and sustainable manufacturable product that is eco-friendly and cost effective in its use."

Mr Ranjbartoreh said the results promise great benefits for the use of graphene paper in the automotive and aviation industries, allowing the development of lighter and stronger cars and planes that use less fuel, generate less pollution, are cheaper to run and ecologically sustainable.

He said large aerospace companies such as Boeing have already started to replace metals with carbon fibres and carbon-based materials, and graphene paper with its incomparable mechanical properties would be the next material for them to explore.

The production of GP from graphite also provides a remarkable amount of added value for the mining, material processing and manufacturing industries in Australia. In the last decade, metals have increasingly and rapidly been replaced with carbon-based materials.

Australian mines have immense graphite resources making the new material a favourable option to industry as an economical, home-grown and world-class technological advancement for mass production and industrial application.

The findings of the UTS research group have been published in the article "Advanced mechanical properties of graphene paper" in the current edition of the Journal of Applied Physics.

Explore further: Microfluidics and nanofluidics research provide inexpensive ways to analyze blood and filter water (w/ Video)

More information: jap.aip.org/resource/1/japiau/v109/i1/p014306_s1

Provided by University of Technology, Sydney

4.9 /5 (34 votes)

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User comments : 53

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Atoyota
5 / 5 (12) Apr 20, 2011
wondering if this has potential in structural design, possibly replacing support cables or even a tether for a space elevator?
sams
5 / 5 (7) Apr 20, 2011
So many possibilities .. from space suits to packaging (depending on cost) .. I wonder how conductive it is.
Deadbolt
4.1 / 5 (9) Apr 20, 2011
Be great for body armor!
CapitalismPrevails
4.1 / 5 (14) Apr 20, 2011
space elevator anyone?
Husky
5 / 5 (9) Apr 20, 2011
i believe most space-elevator designs are build on the assumption of near perfect nanotube threads, having more than hundred times the tensile strength of steel, this looks more like carbon plywood, but this would go a long way for electromagnetic tether propulsion and rotovators
TrustTheONE
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 20, 2011
I think the space elevator is thesalvation aqnd future of space exploration. Imagine be able to buid massive ships, with plenty of room, equipment and lots of shielding. Just the space elevator can provide this.
NASA should look carefuly at this topic. It seams that Japan space agency is trying to buid one.
adluna
not rated yet Apr 20, 2011
books are green again lol
jimbo92107
4.2 / 5 (10) Apr 20, 2011
Space elevators? Bah! Make me a five-pound recumbent bicycle with a nice comfy seat, and I'll have lots of fun right here on earth.
that_guy
2.6 / 5 (10) Apr 20, 2011
This will never work. We have an entire industry built on black and blue inks and graphite pencils. I seriously doubt that they will all suddenly convert to white and other light colored pigments so that we can write on black paper.

...Just kidding.
that_guy
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2011
So now when you pull up next to a jackass in a riceburner at the light, he'll have a faux graphene paper hood instead of faux carbon fiber.
panorama
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 20, 2011
So now when you pull up next to a jackass in a riceburner at the light, he'll have a faux graphene paper hood instead of faux carbon fiber.

Here's hoping a faux graphene paper hood won't shake as much when the bass hits.
Huddersfield_Mel
5 / 5 (2) Apr 20, 2011
I through bitter experience with current carrier bags ( they constantly break), Would this be suitable for the non-splittable, nontearing carrier bag ?
Lordjavathe3rd
5 / 5 (4) Apr 20, 2011
Pretty cool. This is what? Progress! I remember first hearing about graphene I think in 2006. That might be my individual experience, but technology like this seems to jump from theory to practice quite rappidly. It would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were high quality working scientists.
that_guy
3.8 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2011
It would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were high quality working scientists.


That's quite an optimistic view of humanity you have there. IMHO it would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were even capable of being adequate scientists.
TheZone
5 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2011
I can see the material being used for laptops as a very thin and a very strong case design..... TZ
dnatwork
5 / 5 (6) Apr 20, 2011
Fold and layer it like corrugated cardboard, make it into any structural member you like. Probably dope some stripes into it and your wiring is integrated. Dope more interesting patterns, and it is also your electric motor. Slap layers on either side of an insulator, and it's your capacitor/battery.

It's a thneed!
ShotmanMaslo
2 / 5 (4) Apr 20, 2011
How does it compare with steel or carbon nanotubes tensile strenght? Would it be enough for a space elevator?
Bog_Mire
1 / 5 (1) Apr 20, 2011
Graphene....mmmmmmm!
ealex
not rated yet Apr 20, 2011
An amazing achievement indeed. I do have to wonder how 'cost effective' it is though since there was no precise or even ballpark mention of costs involved for manufacturing. I can envision it being used in aerospace for example, but depending on cost it may or may not really be approachable for the lower tiers of the industry, eg: you may have a car manufacturer make a car body out of graphene but if it ends up with a market price of 150k$, only a very thin segment will actually afford it.

Of course as with many other things I assume the manufacturing process will improve with time and costs will drop with it, just a matter of time eventually.

A good read. Now we need some of this type of news from nanotech.
Deadbolt
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 20, 2011
Actually, what makes me pleased is just how superior to steels it is: "Compared to steel, the prepared GP is six times lighter, five to six times lower density, two times harder with 10 times higher tensile strength and 13 times higher bending rigidity."

Normally, there's always a downside: if something is harder, it's often got lower fracture toughness or tensile strength.

This, however, is a curbstomp for graphene. Like a legitimate sci-fi unobtanium, not only is it harder to pull apart, it's much harder to bend, and given they say it is twice as hard, and I presume they mean the traditional definition of hard, you should actually be able to scratch steel with it.

Think about that. Paper that can cut steel. Crazy.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Apr 20, 2011
GP is six times lighter, five to six times lower density
uh... isn't that saying the same thing, twice?

Anyway, pretty awesome stuff. I bet it doesn't rust, either.

Yes, it would be nice to see some cost estimates. But judging from the text, they think it would be commercially viable (to the point of calling for graphite mining in mass quantities.)
Caliban
5 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2011
But why bother with graphite mining? Couldn't the carbon be directly harvested from other industrial/power generation or carbon-capture technologies? Always nice to be able to sell scrap/waste as a raw material...
CapitalismPrevails
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2011
I agree with Caliban. Can't carbon be salvaged from smokestacks to use for graphene manufacturing?
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (4) Apr 20, 2011
Waste carbon as a byproduct of combustion doesn't come in the form of pure graphene. It's basically soot, which will be a mixture of graphene, nanotubes of all types, buckyballs, PAHs, etc all lumped and mixed together into a big messy tangle. It would probably take some considerable filtering and processing to convert soot into even somewhat pure graphite -- all of which costs energy and money. Of course, there are special techniques for deliberately synthesizing graphite, but that's not the same thing as salvaging smokestack ash.

My guess is, it's probably just cheaper to mine graphite than to refine it from waste products.
Kieseyhow
5 / 5 (1) Apr 21, 2011
It would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were high quality working scientists.


That's quite an optimistic view of humanity you have there. IMHO it would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were even capable of being adequate scientists.


It would be awesome if even 50% of the population were capable of doing an efficient and worthwhile job in whatever position they hold in the workforce! I see nothing but incompetence and apathy literally everywhere I look in our modern society.

This 'Graphene Paper' promises to make a lot more people able to be even less proficient at their jobs and get away with it .. *grins*
Jayman
4 / 5 (4) Apr 21, 2011
The only thing missing - "it super-conducts at room temperature".
Skepticus
2.5 / 5 (4) Apr 21, 2011
Compared to steel, the prepared GP is ...13 times higher bending rigidity.
... more flexible than steel


There seems to be a contradiction here. How a material with higher bending rigidity is more flexible?
Apart from the possible hype, this material form is promising. I hope that they would develop a similar one with the thermal conductivity of aerogel. Then, perfect spaceplane body and heatshield!
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2011
How a material with higher bending rigidity is more flexible?
Yup, they probably meant more resilient against bending. Nice catch, though.
I hope that they would develop a similar one with the thermal conductivity of aerogel.
Doubtful, considering graphene is one of the best-known heat conductors. However, a composite structure consisting of multiple alternating layers of GP and aerogel...?
Bog_Mire
5 / 5 (1) Apr 21, 2011
I hope they make some funky stuff with it like, today.
Cal_Sailor
not rated yet Apr 21, 2011
Give me the recipe so I can make it in my garage? I am building a small dinghy and would love for it to have these properties. Does anyone know if epoxy sticks to this stuff?
Cal_Sailor
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2011
Molded sails that don't rot, stretch and weigh next to nothing would sell well.
po6ert
not rated yet Apr 21, 2011
the cap on the Washington monument is pure aluminum because it was the most expensive metal known to man at that time. time change quickly in material cost
Scalziand
not rated yet Apr 21, 2011
Give me the recipe so I can make it in my garage? I am building a small dinghy and would love for it to have these properties. Does anyone know if epoxy sticks to this stuff?


The recipe is given in the journal article, which can be 'rented' for $4.
Shelgeyr
2 / 5 (4) Apr 21, 2011
While I'd absolutely love for there to be a space elevator, sadly the thing that will prevent it from becoming a reality won't be because we can't manufacture strong enough materials... In fact were such a thing possible, this would probably be a huge leap in the right direction. No, what's going to eventually kill any hope of a space elevator is the electrical nature of the planet, namely the various double layers such a cable would have to pass through before reaching geosynchronous orbit. By forming a conductive path, a space elevator cable would disappear in a blinding flash (or more likely just break like a fuse filament) long before it ever got to its desired termini. I'd love to be wrong.
Husky
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2011
you could use coil threads to have a mini-magnetosphere around the space elevator in the radiation belt, in fact you could tune it to let some current pass and have it power the coil and the elevator bots
Shelgeyr
1 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2011
Husky, I doubt it. I think it would be more like laying an iron bar across the contacts of a planet-sized capacitor. Bang! But perhaps I'm not understanding what you propose. Can you elaborate? I's appreciate it...
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2011
Or, you could just insulate the cable. On the other hand, if such an antenna really could develop large currents (and assuming they could be controlled), then we'll have yet another potential source of abundant renewable energy. Bonus!
PS3
1 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2011
Would be great for weight reduction concerning space,and could make one fine parachute for rovers.
Beard
3 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2011
Compared to steel, the prepared GP is ...13 times higher bending rigidity.
... more flexible than steel


There seems to be a contradiction here. How a material with higher bending rigidity is more flexible?


Could it mean that although it's 13 times more resistant to bending than steel, when it does bend it can bend further without breaking?
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2011
Graphene....mmmmmmm!


No, fool.. it should read.... Graphene... Duff Graphene! mmmmmmm!
Quantum_ConDumbBum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2011
The, quantum mechanical properties of a 4-dimensional graphene structure inherently limit the spin up factor to an eighth of an inch of positrons. This demonstrates beyond your understanding that these researchers are exagerating the properties.
Darkond2100
5 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2011
Just how big is this? Will we see any commercial
results within the next couple years? I hope the US military develops
an interest. This just might change the world.
With lighter planes, transportation should get cheaper. Which should lower the price of imports and exports. Lighter automobiles and trains too.
We've already gotten an interest in carbon fibres, that's 1D. This is 2D! (1D==ray,2D==plane)
This can change economics and society... especially warfare.
Beard
not rated yet Apr 24, 2011
@Darkond

I'm imagining clothing like this made of the stuff, perhaps with integrated electronics too.

www.grapplingstor...0tee.jpg

You could make some wicked clothing-armor, graphene is like Mithril in the Lord of the Rings.
toyo
not rated yet Apr 24, 2011
"...is six times lighter, five to six times lower density..."
I always get worried when I read stuff like that.
Bigblumpkin36
not rated yet Apr 24, 2011
Why
ForFreeMinds
1 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2011
It would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were high quality working scientists.


For every scientist who discovers new technology, there are usually a larger team of engineers figuring out how to efficiently manufacture the product, and a much larger number supporting, distributing and selling such products.
Shelgeyr
1 / 5 (2) Apr 24, 2011
ElefanteRosa: I doubt you actually could insulate the cable. Aside from the massive amount of added weight that would involve, my understanding is that given a high enough voltage, any material will conduct electricity. In other words, any particular insulator is only an insulator below a certain voltage. Now I'll admit that I have no idea what kind of voltages would be involved in connecting the various potential differences between the ground and geosynchronous space, but I'm betting they'd be considerably high. Bunch of amps too.
Joey_G
not rated yet Apr 24, 2011
Would it be feasible to mine the carbon from the atmosphere, since all the hippies are worried about climate change? Without the carbon, the ozone would reform, or could be reformed, right?
Joey_G
1 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2011
@Darkond

You could make some wicked clothing-armor, graphene is like Mithril in the Lord of the Rings.


But then if graphene becomes used in weaponry, your armor won't matter.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Apr 24, 2011
Would it be feasible to mine the carbon from the atmosphere
Theoretically possible; in practice prohibitively expensive.
Without the carbon, the ozone would reform, or could be reformed, right?
There is very little connection between the two. The carbon "hippies" are worried about is mainly in the form of CO2 and CH4, whereas the "carbon" that participates in ozone destruction is mostly a secondary constituent in CFCs. There is a very minor effect on ozone destruction due to CO2/CH4 in the troposphere blocking escape of certain infrared wavelengths to the stratosphere, which very slightly cools the stratosphere; the colder it gets, the more efficiently CFCs catalyze ozone destruction. But this effect is almost negligible.
if graphene becomes used in weaponry, your armor won't matter.
2-dimensional bullets? Unlikely... Unless you're talking about graphene swords...
Mastoras
not rated yet May 04, 2011
It would be awesome if 50% or so of the population were high quality working scientists.


Actually, the current situation is that the large majority of scientists are working for military purposes. Also, the large percentage of resources are devoted for the military. What it would have been awesome is if even slightly more scientists and resources were working for social purposes.

I am surpriseed to see how many people have a dream that appears to neglect society. Also, many highly educated people have yet to realize the importance of the relation of society to the environment, and the importance of climate change.
Mastoras
5 / 5 (1) May 04, 2011
As for my own dream..., given a strong and light material, my thought goes to a deep sea vehicle.
allanwood
not rated yet Jun 15, 2011
As composite materials become more sophisticated and complex, modeling becomes increasingly important. AnalySwift has several efficient high-fidelity modeling tools capable of predicting properties of such materials. One is SwiftComp Micromechanics, another VABS, both of which save orders of magnitude in engineering time compared to FEA-based approaches, but with no sacrifice in accuracy. It is exciting to see new materials such as those described in this article and envision the many future applications.