Graphene soars towards the marketplace
The last years have been quite unusual, but this did not get in the way of new innovations from Graphene Flagship members, Partnering Projects and Spearhead Projects around Europe. Here, Francesco Bonaccorso, Deputy Head of Innovation for the Graphene Flagship, looks back at four of the most-read graphene stories from the last year. Read on to learn about how graphene could give us faster mobile phones, safer aircraft and seafaring vessels, and even a new construction material that replicates human bone.
Coming in hot
In Top Gun, the 1980s action drama about fighter pilots, Tom Cruise’s arch-rival was nicknamed the Iceman. This is actually not too far from the truth: it is absolutely vital to protect aircraft from ice formation due to the super-cold temperatures high up in the sky. In fact, in the worst cases, ice accumulation in the airframe and engine resulted in numerous fatal accidents in aviation history. Fortunately, graphene is an ideal material to keep aircraft parts ice-free, with no impact on the aerodynamic properties.
Various partners of the Graphene Flagship are working on graphene-based ice protection technologies for aircraft. One Graphene Flagship Spearhead Project is developing a graphene-based thermoelectric ice protection system: GICE. Here, an ultra-thin conductive coating layer of aero-graphene foam is applied to aircraft components.
Because of graphene’s homogenous heat distribution properties, heat flows evenly throughout the layer when a current is applied, which can be controlled precisely for optimum ice protection. This keeps aircraft parts ice free without affecting the aerodynamic properties, and prevents ice from dangerously inhibiting an aircraft’s controls. Iceman, be afraid!
Hard as bone
What do seashells and human bones have in common? They are both functionally graded materials comprised of sandwiched layers, with properties that gradually vary between each layer. Now, Graphene Flagship Partnering Project CERANEA, comprising researchers from a wide range of institutes in countries such as Hungary, Germany and Slovakia, is exploring ceramics and graphene to develop new possibilities for bone-like materials.
CERANEA’s researchers replicated bone-like structures by altering the amounts of graphene in ceramic-graphene composites, mimicking different porosities in the process. Placing foam-like graphene at the top of the structure enables it to support 3,000 times its own weight.
By exploiting conventional powder technologies, with additional industry-standard processes like hot isostatic pressing to enhance the ceramic density, scientists can produce composite materials ranging in size from approximately 1 to 10 microns. This allows CERANEA to manufacture functionally graded materials of differing layers and varying compositions: usually five to 30 per cent graphene by weight. Not only does this make bone reconstruction possible, the use of artificial materials like these holds exciting possibilities for biomedical implants.
Billions of euros are spent on technologies to protect marine vessels, like ships, tankers and their equipment against water’s harmful effects. Rain and stormy seas cause the structures of vessels to corrode heavily, which necessitates spending on repairs and replacement materials. What’s more, the traditional method of protection, where epoxy primer is applied to a ship’s entire structure, causes damage to the ocean’s ecology over time.
This is why the Graphene Flagship partnered with Associated Member Talga, an industry-leading battery anode and graphene additive company. Talga developed a new patent-pending graphene additive product, called Talcoat™, designed to enhance the anticorrosion performance of protective coating on marine vessels without the ecological damage.
Talcoat has already been applied to two active commercial cargo ships in what’s believed to be the world’s largest application of graphene, and the sea trials have reported positive results. Graphene also shows strong potential as a coating material for other products.
Because of its unique properties, graphene is about to step out of the field of material science and into the spotlight of mobile phone technology. Indeed, it could make phones of the future faster.
Using graphene-based photonics, the Graphene Flagship’s 5G Spearhead Project developed a way to transmit data at speeds of up to 56 gigabits per second, much faster than an ethernet connection. This new method of data transfer is faster, consumes less energy and results in fewer transmission errors than current 4G connections.
The ultimate purpose of this initiative is to demonstrate an ultra-high capacity transmitter and receivers for 5G communications using graphene. The project has already demonstrated transmission speeds of 50 Gb per second from an electro-absorption modulator and 56 Gb per second from a transmitter. This means the graphene phone has the potential to use the full bandwidth of the 5G network: up to five-times faster than 4G. Projects like these represent significant steps towards justifying large-scale commercial interest in graphene, going into 2022 and beyond.