Graphene is stronger than steel, thinner than paper, and could be the future of technology.
In school, you probably learned that carbon comes in two basic but very different forms (or allotropes). Namely graphite (the soft, black stuff with pencils) and diamond (the super hard, sparkling jewelry). The amazing thing is that these two completely different materials are made up of identical carbon atoms. Why is graphite different from diamond? Because the atoms are arranged differently in the two materials. Therefore the two allotropes are completely different: Graphite is black, matt and relatively soft. And diamond is transparent and the hardest natural material most people know.
Most people learned that in school. In recent years, however, scientists have discovered several other types of carbon with even more interesting properties. There are fullerenes (discovered 1985), nanotubes (discovered 1991) and …… .. graphene (discovered 2004).
So, what is Graphene exactly?
Many solid materials that we are all familiar with (including most metals) have what is known as a crystal lattice. These are many atoms arranged in a regular, endlessly repeating three-dimensional structure. A bit like a nuclear climbing frame. Only instead of bars are there invisible bonds between the atoms that hold them together. Diamond and graphite both have a three-dimensional structure. However, they are completely different: in diamond, the atoms are closely connected in three-dimensional tetrahedra. And in graphite atoms are firmly connected in two-dimensional layers, which are held by relatively weak forces on the layers above and below.
Graphene is a single layer of graphite. The special thing about it is that its crystal line structure is two-dimensional. This means that the atoms in graphene are laid out flat. Think of pool balls on a table and you get the idea. As with graphite, each layer of graphite consists of hexagonal “rings” of carbon. Since these layers are only one atom high, you need a stack of roughly three million of these layers to make graphene 1mm thick!
Graphene or Graphenes?
People speak of “graphene” as they speak of “plastic”. But there are many different types of graphene-based materials (just like there are many different types of plastics), all of which are slightly different and perform different roles. We mostly only know the material as a graph. But the word graphene will probably later be known as a very wide range of different materials. Perhaps one day it will be customary to talk about “graphenes” as we now talk about “plastics”.
What is Graphene like?
We don’t hear about new materials very often. Maybe because most of them aren’t that interesting. Graphene was first discovered in 2004. And scientists were very excited about it. Here’s why: It’s super strong and stiff, amazingly thin, almost completely transparent, extremely light, and an amazing conductor of electricity and heat. This is exactly what distinguishes our product from other electrical heating systems.
Graphene is a very pure substance. Mainly because of its simple, ordered atomic structure. Carbon is not a metal, so you can expect graphene to be the same. In reality, however, it behaves much more like a metal. Some researchers describe it as a semi-metal. Who knows? What we do know, however, is that graphene has extraordinary properties, and maybe even is unique.
Strength and Stifness
Anyone who’s used a pencil knows that graphite is very, very soft. This is because the carbon layers inside the graphite shave off very easily. However, the atoms in these carbon layers are very tightly bound. This makes graphene super strong. Even stronger than diamond! Graphene is the strongest material discovered so far. About 200 times stronger than steel. But, oddly enough, it’s both stiff and elastic. You can stretch it at 20-25% of its original length without breaking.
Thinness and lightness
Something that is only an atom thick is of course quite light. But graphene is so light that if you cover a soccer field with a sheet. The sheet would be less than a gram, unfortunately no one has tried it yet.
Super strength and ultra-lightness are not the end of the special skills. Graphene conducts heat better than any other material. Much better even than copper. This makes our heating products very quick, efficient, strong and light.
Materials that conduct heat and electricity use electrons to do so. The flat, hexagonal structure of graphene offers less resistance to electrons then other materials. Copper doesn’t even come close. The only thing that comes close is a superconductor. However, these become very hot and must be cooled. The remarkable conductivity of graphene works even at room temperature. Scientifically speaking: the electrons in graphene have a longer free path than in any other material. Imagine a strong, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive material that can conduct electricity with greatly reduced energy losses. It can be used by anything like power generation and transportation. Or just to get a longer battery life for your phone.
Electrical conductivity is all about moving electrons from one place to another. Manipulating this electron flow is what electronics are all about. Again, the electronic properties of graphene are very unusual. Electrons can move quickly in it, so computer chips can work faster (and with less electricity). With graphene even at speeds that are close to the speed of light. This means that they behave according to both the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. So graphene can be used to test aspects of these theories. Instead of using expensive particle accelerators or large, powerful space telescopes.