Making graphene in your kitchen

April 20, 2014
Atomic resolution, scanning transmission electron microscope image of part of a nanosheet of shear exfoliated graphene. The bright blobs (indicated by the arrow) are carbon atoms. Credit: CRANN/SuperSTEM

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Thus far, has proven elusively hard to manufacture on an . Methods have required a choice between high quality graphene in small quantities, or large batches with defects.

A team from England and Ireland, however, reported on Sunday they had used a blender to make microscopic sheets of graphene.

They placed powdered graphite, the stuff from which pencil lead is made, into a container with an "exfoliating liquid", and then mixed at high speed.

The result is miniscule sheets of graphene, each about a nanometre (a billionth of a metre) thick and 100 nanometres long, suspended in a liquid.

The force generated by the rotating blades separated the graphite into graphene layers without damaging their two-dimensional structure.

"We developed a new way of making graphene sheets," Trinity College Dublin chemical physics professor Jonathan Coleman, who co-authored the study in the journal Nature Materials, told AFP.

"This method gives lots of graphene with no defects."

The team used industrial equipment called shear mixers, but successfully repeated the experiment with a kitchen blender.

Production of graphene by shear exfoliation of graphite in the solvent N-methyl-pyrrolidone using a Silverson high shear mixer. In this experiment, 100 litres of graphene suspension were produced. Credit: CRANN

The liquid so produced can be spread onto surfaces as films of graphene sheets, like paint, or mixed with plastics to produce reinforced, composite materials.

"In the lab, we produced grams. However, when scaled up, tonnes will be produced," said Coleman.

Graphene is the world's thinnest substance, transparent but stronger than steel—a conductive super-material made of carbon just one atom thick.

There is a surge of interest in it to replace semiconductors in next-generation computers, touch screens, batteries and solar cells.

Transmission electron microscope image of nanosheets of shear exfoliated graphene. The scalebar is 100 nm. Credit: CRANN

Graphene was aired as a theoretical substance in 1947. But for decades, physicists thought it would be impossible to isolate, as such thin crystalline sheets were bound to be unstable.

The problem was resolved in 2004 by a pair of scientists who used ordinary sticky tape to lift a layer from a piece of graphite.

That layer was itself pulled apart using more tape, and the process repeated until just the thinnest of layers remained—a .

Coleman said a company that sponsored the study has applied for a patent on the new method.

Explore further: Team finds potential way to make graphene superconducting

More information: Scalable production of large quantities of defect-free few-layer graphene by shear exfoliation in liquids, Nature Materials (2014)

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5 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2014
A patent on blending dust into a liquid? Maybe if the liquid was something novel, but the patent system would have to be really broken to....

Oh wait. It is.
Apr 20, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Uncle Ira
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 20, 2014
Well I tell you true. If ol Ira-Skippy started to cooking up such mess as that in the kitchen the Missus-Ira would show him the door, eh? The only superconducting that would be getting done would be me packing my bags up into the truck and trailum
Apr 20, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2014
Then let us start to make the space elevator in lots of kitchens. Who cares about patents, just make the thing to give mankind cheap access to space.
5 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2014
The problem is that it's hard to merge graphene sheets together without introducing defects. (http://www.materi...-sheets/ )

Those halve its strength. For a space elevator, we either need to find a way to make a very long ribbon of single-sheet graphene, or to merge sheets without introducing defects.
4.7 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2014
merge sheets without introducing defects.

Maybe a bio approach. Design an enzyme that runs over sheet edges, "clicking" together free ends. Stir the enzyme into this emulsion of graphene fragments. Extrude the resulting mass like nylon.
5 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2014
So now we can produce graphene in our kitchen, it's fairly safe to assume many of the DIY folk and science nerds of the world will indeed give it a go...without much or any of the typical safety equipment (e.g. respirators) used in laboratories.
But I'm wondering, is there any nanotoxicology data which demonstrates whether the lung can completely clear inhaled particles...or are they going to potentially behave like carbon nanotubes and cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-like conditions?
1 / 5 (1) Apr 29, 2014
Graphene safe....?
The jury is clearly still out:
not rated yet Apr 30, 2014
... My opinion is, such a layers could be superconductive at room temperature.

If only! I agree, but have yet to uncover the right mix of layers. Alignment to the direction of current flow may be critical, so just painting the stuff on may not work.

(Just speculating.) There may be promise in some type of electrostatic bonding of Graphene layers to a substrate (Iron? Calcium? Aluminum or Copper?), but again, alignment(s) may not allow this.

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