Ever Heard of Graphene ?

Graphene Transistors on Flexible Plastic

Graphene Transistors on Flexible Plastic

I had not heard of it either, until a NY Times article posted online April 13, 2014 – “Bend It, Charge It, Dunk It: Graphene, the Material of Tomorrow” – got my own attention. Interest in Graphene goes back at least a decade now. The author, Nick Bilton, says “Graphene is the strongest, thinnest material known to exist. A form of carbon, it can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else. And get ready for this: It is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable.”

Yemm & Hart also has the quality of flexibility in all of our recycled materials, when chosen at the right thickness and used in the proper applications. Flexibility can be a desirable quality. So, Origins at 1/8″ thk can be rolled and curved around forms. Tire Veneer, Flexisurf and Wine Cork in laminate form can also bend to match the shape of a form they are adhered to. The photo below shows a fixture for the Whole Foods Market (St Louis Galleria location) using Tire Veneer at the base for durability against shopping cart collisions and wine cork laminate to convey a message about the purpose of the fixture in the wine department of that store.

Whole Foods Market Cork Collection Fixture

Whole Foods Market
Cork Collection Fixture

While Graphene really is of no financial interest to Yemm & Hart Ltd; my environmentalist’s heart wants to know – is it safe for our environment, to be pursuing this development of the latest and greatest, that science can offer our planet ? It is challenging to show you what this one-atom thick “wonder” material looks like because one needs a powerful electron microscope to see it. The breakthrough is that by adding potassium hydroxide to graphene, these sponge-like porous sheets have increased surface area. Just a gram of the activated graphene, say the researchers, could stretch from a football field’s end zone to its 50-yard line. For a supercapacitor, this increased surface area allows the electrode material to hold more energy.

Graphene viewed through Electron Microscope

Graphene viewed through Electron Microscope

And the ability to store more energy is just what supercapacitors need. While they are great for quick energy fixes and frequent re-charges, they hold just a fraction of the energy batteries can. Batteries release their charge slow and steady over the long haul. But a supercapacitor able to store as much as a battery, take in and release its charge swiftly, and endure being re-charged thousands of times over ? This would be very useful. Electric vehicles could benefit, as well as grids needing to regulate varying power influxes from solar and wind farms. My environmentalist heart becomes interested and attentive.

UofTX Engineers with 3-D Graphene model

UofTX Engineers with 3-D Graphene model

Chinese scientists have created a graphene aerogel, an ultralight material derived from a gel, that is one-seventh the weight of air and one cubic inch of this could be balanced on a single blade of grass. Graphene is said by the American Chemical Society to be 200 times stronger than steel. Potential applications include electronic clothing and computers that can interface with the cells in your body. It is extremely rare to find transparency, conductivity and flexibility in one material. So, this could be big.

Think thinner, faster and cheaper electronics than is currently possible with silicon. Think batteries that can actually be submerged in water without oxidizing. Imagine a cell phone that can stay charged for a week and recharged in just 15 mins. Imagine your cell phone as thin as a piece of paper, that can be folded up and put into your pocket. Graphene can be stretched 20% without losing it’s ability to conduct electrcity. What about a graphene-based condom that is thin, light and impenetrable ? – that has the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Think whole airplanes made out of graphene.

Still, I am concerned about the potential consequences of human-made nano-particles entering the various tiny and unintended crevasses of the environment and human body. I am aware of the concerns and issues related to polyethylene micro-beads in many cosmetics and their impact on waters such as the Great Lakes in the United States. If you are interested in learning more, you can easily google – “microbeads” – and find an abundance of information.

Polyethylene Microbeads

Polyethylene Microbeads

There is no doubt that the nano world is going to have huge impacts on the macro world we move about in. Graphene is a promising material for many things, from timely delivery of medicine to oil extraction. The ultra-thin, heat-transferring material has interested many as a possible substitute for silicon within electronics, as I have just discussed above. And honestly, the disposal issues related to our growing dependence on electronics are huge. So, we ask – if graphene eventually displaces silicon within our gadgets, how eco-friendly will this substance be ?

The production of Graphene raises concerns, as one researcher at Rice University has expressed – “… using potassium chlorate or sodium nitrates … release toxic gases – one of which, chlorine dioxide, is explosive. Manufacturers are always reluctant to go to a large scale with any process that generates explosive intermediates. Many companies have started to make graphene and graphene oxide, and I think they’re going to be very hard pressed to come up with a cheaper procedure that’s this efficient and as safe and environmentally friendly”. Realistically we know that cost and profit are drivers in commercial environments.

The disposal of Graphene is more encouraging – “… research finds the almost ubiquitous Shewanella bacteria capable of breaking down GO into graphene. Stacks of graphene, which are single-atom carbon layers, become graphite, which is considered ecologically benign. According to the researchers, the bacteria from the Shewanella family can also convert iron, chromium, uranium and arsenic compounds into less harmful substances and will be important to future bio-remediation efforts.”

In the old movie, The Graduate, the “word” was said to be plastics. Today, it would appear, that the hottest new word may be “Graphene”. Stay tuned; and watch the future unfold, right before your eyes !!!

Information Resources –

“Wine Cork Tile Slideshow” at YemmHart.com – http://yemmhart.com/materials/winecorktile/slideshow_wct/wct_slideshow.html

“Bend It, Charge It, Dunk It: Graphene, the Material of Tomorrow” by Nick Bilton posted April 13, 2014 in the NY Times Online – http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/bend-it-charge-it-dunk-it-graphene-the-material-of-tomorrow/

“Graphene supes up supercapacitors” by Melissa Mahony posted 05/12/2011 on SmartPlanet.com

“Beat The Micro Bead” campaign at 5Gyres.org – http://5gyres.org/how_to_get_involved/campaigns/

“Graphene goes green” by Melissa Mahony posted 07/26/2010 on SmartPlanet.com – http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/graphene-goes-green/


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer



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