Graphene makes light work of aircraft design

Jun 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Faster and lighter aircraft could be built using an incredible super-thin material just one atom thick, according to new research conducted at The University of Manchester.

Writing in the journal Advanced , a team of materials scientists and physicists say has the potential to replace carbon fibres in high performance materials that are used to build aircraft.

Graphene - discovered in 2004 by physicists Prof Andre Geim and Dr Kostya Novoselov at The University of Manchester - is a two-dimensional layer of that resembles chicken wire.

As well as being an excellent conductor of electrons, with the potential to replace silicon, graphene is also one of the stiffest-known materials. A recent study found it to be the strongest material ever measured.

This led researchers to investigate its behaviour and properties when mixed with other materials.

A University of Manchester team, which included Dr Novoselov, put a single graphene sheet between two layers of polymer and used a technique called Raman spectroscopy to measure how the carbon bonds responded when the graphene was stretched.

Raman spectroscopy works by shining a laser light onto a molecule and then collecting and analysing the wavelength and intensity of the resulting .

The technique basically measures bond vibration between atoms. As researchers stretch the bond the vibration changes frequency. It can be compared to tuning a guitar string and hearing the pitch change.

Researchers were able to use Raman spectroscopy to look at the change of the vibrational energy of the bond and then worked out the change in bond length. From this information they calculated the improvement in stiffness the graphene gave to the polymer composite.

Professor Robert Young of the School of Materials, said: “We have found the theories developed for large materials still hold even when a material is just one atom thick.”

“We can now start to use the decades of research into traditional carbon fibre composites to design the next generation of graphene-based materials.”

Dr Ian Kinloch, a researcher in the School of Materials, commented: “This relatively new material continues to amaze, and its incredible properties could be used to make structural, lightweight components for fuel efficient vehicles and aircraft.”

Explore further: Scientists fabricate defect-free graphene, set record reversible capacity for Co3O4 anode in Li-ion batteries

More information: ‘Interfacial Stress Transfer in a Graphene Monolayer Nanocomposite,’ L. Gong, I. A. Kinloch, R. J. Young, I. Riaz, R. Jalil and K. S. Novoselov, Advanced Materials.

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OregonWind
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 08, 2010
"Faster and lighter aircraft could be built using an incredible super-thin material just one atom thick,.."

What in an airplane could be built one atom thick only by using graphene? I am sure it is not the main structure.
andyrdj
3 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2010
This looks impressive in more ways than just the expermiment. It looks like they are claiming they have a formula to predict the strengths of structures and the change due to addition of graphene right down to an atom thick scale.

If this formula is as general and accurate as this article suggests, the potential is huge.
Parsec
not rated yet Jun 08, 2010
Designers would obviously use layers of graphene with layers of polymer between them. However, the nice trick with today's composites is that you can form fit them to shape, then cure them using heat or chemicals. I would expect a multi-layer composite to have a lot of physical deformation during the curing process, easily delaminating it to the graphene layer's. So moving from a composite with one graphene sheet and 2 ploymer layers on the outside, to multiple graphene layer's would be the real trick in making this technology useful. How about just putting one layer of polymer between 2 graphene layers? That would be a LOT more impressive.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Jun 08, 2010
What would be really cool, is if they figured out some way to cross-link adjacent sheets of graphene. It might weaken individual sheets, but in toto they'd provide impressive (perhaps even diamond-like) strength and would ideally resist delamination. Of course, such cross-linking (if at all possible) would only be useful /after/ the layered structure is fitted to form...
Bloodoflamb
not rated yet Jun 08, 2010
What do you mean by cross-link? To have a bond between parallel sheets of graphene? If so, what you're describing is graphite, and these bonds would be very weak.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Jun 08, 2010
@Bloodoflamb,
What do you mean by cross-link? To have a bond between parallel sheets of graphene? If so, what you're describing is graphite, and these bonds would be very weak.
Yes, I mean a bond between parallel sheets of graphene. But not weak electrostatic bonds like in graphite; I mean covalent bonds like within the sheets themselves.
Bloodoflamb
4 / 5 (3) Jun 08, 2010
Just because chemists like to give the bonds different names doesn't mean they're different. All bonds between atoms in a molecule are by their very nature electrostatic.

If you wanted to create so-called sigma-bonds (which are the bonds within the plane of graphene) between 2 adjacent layers, you would almost certainly alter the geometry and no longer have graphene - you'd probably get diamond.

Each of the layers has a delocalized structure of electrons 'floating' above/below the plane of the bonds. These are the electrons which are so mobile when we speak of graphene as a near-ideal conductor. If we were to somehow force these electrons to form stronger bonds than the intrinsically weak bonding normally seen between graphene layers, it is likely that we would lose most if not all of the useful electronic properties.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Jun 08, 2010
All bonds between atoms in a molecule are by their very nature electrostatic.
Flatly, no. There are ionic bonds, Wan der Waals (electrostatic) adhesion, and then there are covalent bonds. In covalent bonds, the bound atoms are brought close together, and co-orbited by at least one shared electron. The bonds between graphene sheets in graphite are of the electrostatic variety, whereas bonds between atoms in each sheet are covalent. That's why it's so much easier to slough off graphene sheets from a graphite pencil lead, but way harder to remove individual atoms from each graphene flake.
you would almost certainly alter the geometry and no longer have graphene - you'd probably get diamond.
Yes, and no. In diamond, there are no "sheets". The picture I had in mind, is more like 1 inter-sheet bond for every 100 C atoms.
we would lose most if not all of the useful electronic properties
Look at diamond. And, we're talking structural, not electronic here.
Bloodoflamb
5 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2010
Flatly, no. There are ionic bonds, Wan der Waals (electrostatic) adhesion, and then there are covalent bonds. In covalent bonds, the bound atoms are brought close together, and co-orbited by at least one shared electron. The bonds between graphene sheets in graphite are of the electrostatic variety, whereas bonds between atoms in each sheet are covalent. That's why it's so much easier to slough off graphene sheets from a graphite pencil lead, but way harder to remove individual atoms from each graphene flake.
Flatly, yes. The forces arise from electric charge carriers. Ionic bonds: electrostatic. Covalent bonds: electrostatic. Quantum mechanics ultimately tells us the nature of the bonds, but they still arise from electrostatic interactions between the protons/electrons and electrons/electrons.
Frinkz
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Hot damn!

What can't graphene 'do'?
NotAsleep
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Composites are really still a "gimmick" in the aircraft industry. Most jets are still primarily aluminum. The difficulty in composite material maintenance and the uncertainty of the strength of repairs coupled with the inability of composites to bear much out of plane loading dissuades many manufacturers from using composites in real weight-bearing applications. Everything on a plane requires maintenance; to perform maintenance there must be a maintenance panel; a maintenance panel built into a composite structure defeats the purpose of having composites.

The new Boeing 787 will be the true test of whether or not composites in their current form are really a viable option. Hopefully graphene becomes economical enough to solve some of these problems
TrustTheONE
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Let the space elevator come!
I think we can start using it in the place of the carbon nanotubes.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2010
@Bloodoflamb,
The forces arise from electric charge carriers. Ionic bonds: electrostatic. Covalent bonds: electrostatic.
You're abusing terminology. The word "electrostatic" has a specific meaning in both physics and chemistry, and it does NOT involve exchange of electrons between bound atoms. The word "covalent" also has a specific meaning, and it denotes a sharing of at least one electron between the valence orbitals of two atoms.

Yes, all bonds between atoms are ultimately mediated by electric charge (and to a vastly lesser extent, gravity.) However, you'd get an 'F' on any chemistry test if you said that the two atoms in an O2 molecule are bonded electrostatically.
Bloodoflamb
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
You'd get an F because chemists aren't expected to actually know physics - and most don't.

There's no abuse of language here. In physics, electrostatic interactions are interactions between electrically charged particles that are not due to the motion of the particles. Just because electrons are shared doesn't mean the bond's force isn't completely due to electrostatic interactions - it is. The charge distribution is, of course, changed due to the quantum nature of electrons, but this simply serves to put an extra constraint on the lowest electrostatic configuration.

If anything, chemists abuse terminology by saying that a covalent bond is formed via the sharing of AN electron. BULL CRAP! Bonded atoms share ENERGY LEVELS that are occupied by a superposition of ALL of the electrons present.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
electrostatic interactions are interactions between electrically charged particles that are not due to the motion of the particles
Two covalently bound atoms are not bound due to the fact that they are electrically charged. That would be the case for ionic bonds, but not covalent bonds. The atoms that bind covalently are both electrically neutral prior and subsequent to the formation of the bond. They are bound because they're being co-orbited by at least one electron: by wrapping around both atoms, the electron links them together like a rubber band.
chemists abuse terminology by saying that a covalent bond is formed via the sharing of AN electron. BULL CRAP!
Sometimes, simplifications must be made in order to discuss something succinctly.

And before you lunge once again into "ENERGY LEVELS", as a supposed physics cognoscenti I expect you to at least be aware of the concept of orbitals and their spatial-geometric relationship to the respective nucleus.
Bloodoflamb
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Placing a set of atoms in the positions that they would be in were they to form their 'covalent bonds,' would create portions of space that are energetically favorable for the electrons' wavefunction. The location of these energetically favorable areas is dictated by: the electrostatic potential of the differing nuclei; the electrostatic self-interaction of the tensor-product state (wavefunction) of the electrons. That's it! That explains EVERY SINGLE bond in EVERY SINGLE molecule.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
That explains EVERY SINGLE bond in EVERY SINGLE molecule.
Just like we can say that gold is equivalent to tin, because they're both fundamentally composed of quarks and leptons.

Look, there is both a quantitative and qualitative gulf, in order of escalating bond strength, between Wan der Walls adhesion, ionic bonding, and covalent bonding.

Yes, all of these effects can be traced to arrangements of electrons in shells around nuclei. However, the mechanisms of these effects are different.

In Van der Waals adhesion, electron clouds become lopsided, creating attractive dipole moments between otherwise neutral atoms. These dipole moments lead to adhesion, which is relatively weak.

In ionic bonds, you have literal charged particles -- atoms differing by at least 2 electron charges -- being electrostatically attracted to each other WITHOUT sharing their electrons.

In covalent bonds, electrons are commingled among the bonded nuclei, and such bonds are the strongest of all.
maxcypher
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2010
It looks like PinkElephant and Bloodoflamb should exchange emails, so as to help their mutual edification (then, I think you should post your resulting discussion on a blog so I could read it). What I want to know is: Does making polygraphene (sic?) composites allow for graphene's ability to contribute to computation? I've been waiting for 'smart matter' for a long time.
SteveL
not rated yet Jun 11, 2010
Heck, it's an intelligent discussion. No name calling or insults - Amazing! Let it continue please. I'm reading and learning.
SteveL
not rated yet Jun 11, 2010
A topically related article concerning the strength of Graphene as a potential building or aerospace material:

http://www.physor...014.html
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Jun 12, 2010
Ok, Pink elephant how about this:

I realize in the picture representation of graphene it is more about showing the basic structure of the bonds in the sheets, rather than actual "to scale" relationships between carbon atoms and the spaces involved.

So what I would wonder is, in the space inside a single "hex ring" of graphene, how much of that space is "empty" and how much is occupied by electrons? Is there enough space to make a CHAIN of graphene molecules interlocking physically, rather than chemically, like links of a metallic chain? If so, problem solved.

That is, if the Graphene is "chicken wire" then simply cross another "wire"(graphene molecule or polymer,) through the space between the carbon atoms.

If this pictoral representation is severely flawed and the carbon atoms are crammed much closer, then of course this idea wouldn't work, unless you could insert defects into the graphene such that a 6-atom hex is missing to allow threading orthogonal chains of graphene .
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Jun 12, 2010
Oh yeah, I'd be interested to see just how strong a sheet of PTFE could be per unit mass and area if it had alternating layers of graphene.

I know you're gonna laugh, but "Houston Dome".
otto1923
not rated yet Jun 12, 2010
PE, BL
there are a number of ways to dope graphene sheets- perhaps this could be a way of constructing 3d lattice:
http://www.columb...tion.pdf
otto1923
not rated yet Jun 12, 2010
@notasleep
Composites are really still a "gimmick" in the aircraft industry.
What are you talking about?

"The majority of the structural composites in the F-35 are made out of bismaleimide (BMI) and composite epoxy material."
http://www.reinfo...n-award/
http://www.scaled.com/
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Jun 12, 2010
One bonus of this emerging technology is that carbon will become a valuable commodity in and of itself, as opposed to a troublesome byproduct.

I can forsee carbon being harvested from industrial processes- maybe even chimneys, fer cripe's- and metals being repurposed for those essential functions that the carbon materials( I want to call the class "CARBONITE", cause I like the way it sounds) are unable to perform.

This would solve a number of difficulties at one blow -heck, it might even usher in a new Golden Age.
otto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jun 14, 2010
I dunno caliban, carbon is pretty common in the environment- coal, etc. As to carbonite, you may have a copyright battle:
http://en.wikiped...arbonite