The promise of graphene

A potentially transformative material

Graphene may be the most hyped material ever, described as one of the defining substances and technologies of the 21st century. We have been hearing about graphene for years so why is the development going so slow? As with any new technology it can take years to test and create new systems and applications.

Graphene is the strongest material ever tested, conducts heat and electricity efficiently, and is nearly transparent. It is a single atom sheet arranged in interlocking hexagons. It can be produced with simple tools, a piece of graphite and a piece of tape. Dissolve the tape backing and you are left with tiny flakes of graphene, super light and super strong. Graphene is light, flexible, hypoallergenic plus it is highly conductive. The material even won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Image, Rice University

Image, Rice University

Enhanced you

Graphene has many applications. It can improve and can even replace our existing technologies, and could revolutionise the technology of the future. It can enhance the properties of materials, making them stronger and more durable. You can blend it into rubber, or concrete or use graphene inks to coat fibres or yarns.

Graphene enhanced fabrics enable wearers to monitor performance, heart rate, and optimise movements. Due to the material’s unique thermal qualities the fabric acts as a filter between the body and the environment, creating the ideal temperature as a second skin.

Image, graphene jacket by Vollebak

Image, graphene jacket by Vollebak

“The next 1,000 years might be the Carbon Age.”

Sportswear innovators Vollebak have developed a graphene jacket. The fabric of the jacket is made from a graphene blended with polyurethane and nylon. It can conduct heat, repel bacteria, conduct power, allow sweat to evaporate, protext you from wind and rain without adding weight. Vollebak’s view is that wearable technology will become increasingly invisible over the next 10 to 20 years. Instead of wearing it over your eyes or on your wrist, it will be embedded as clothing and tech simply merge.

Image by Dupont & Holst Centre

Image by Dupont & Holst Centre

Faster & lighter

As graphene is a light and conductive electronic material it can replace copper in electronics. It can be used for fast charging batteries. It could charge a smartphone in seconds, and charge car batteries fast and making them weigh less. Manufactures are eager to replace silicon chips with graphene because of current speed limitations but current graphene transistors still leak energy.

Graphene-based touch screens are flexible and could be used in bendable or foldable devices. Integrated graphene-based photonic devices offer a unique solution for the next generation of optical communications. It could make it much faster and able to meet future requirements of the ever-increasing data systems.

The material qualities of graphene could re-shape the way we design, engineer and manufacture the future. Big investments in research and development of graphene are being made but it will still take some time until we will use these enhanced technologies in our everyday lives without really noticing them.

Banner image by Vollebak.