The graphene solution: an era of innovation
Since graphene’s discovery, researchers have found hundreds of potential applications for this incredibly versatile material. From brain implants to treat neurological disorders, to the next generation of smart textiles, products enabled by graphene and related materials promise to disrupt individuals, industries and societies. In this article, Kari Hjelt, Head of Innovation at the Graphene Flagship, looks at three examples.
Put a spin on it
In today’s world, data is king. But the ever-increasing demand for faster data processing and data storage capabilities led to a dramatic rise in energy consumption, as well as the accompanying concerns about the environmental impact of data processing. The world’s data is stored in physical locations – data centres, which globally use an estimated 200 terawatt hours of energy each year. This is more than the national energy consumption of Spain.
One solution is spintronics. This alternative to traditional electronics relies on the spin of electrons to transport information, rather than electrons’ charge. As generating a current requires more energy than changing spin, spintronic devices consume less power. They can also transfer data faster and are non-volatile – information sent using spin is not compromised by a loss of power. All this offers higher-capacity data storage with lower energy consumption.
Where does graphene come in?
Spin devices based on graphene and related materials drastically outperform conventional materials when transferring spin information at room temperature. The Graphene Flagship’s Spintronics Work Package aims to demonstrate the efficient integration of related materials into spintronic devices to improve their speed, energy and cost.
Sophisticated graphene-enabled spintronic devices could open the door to the design of exceptionally energy-efficient memory technologies, reducing the environmental impact and cost of data storage around the world.
These examples showcase that graphene’s significance is not limited to research and academia. Instead, it is a powerful solution to major real-world problems.
On the road
Passenger cars account for 60% of Europe’s total CO2 emissions from road transport. With the European Union setting strict targets to limit transport emissions, it is vital to reduce the environmental impact of passenger cars now more than ever.
There are two ways to achieve this goal: making cars more efficient by reducing their weight, and switching to renewably powered electric vehicles.
The first is possible using lightweight materials for vehicle frameworks – something that can be achieved through strong and light hierarchical fibre composites, made with graphene sheets just a few billionths of a metre thick, as a nanoadditive. Research undertaken by the G+BOARD Spearhead Project also uses graphene to develop lighter and greener car dashboards, replacing the need for copper wiring.
The second, encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles, falls under the remit of Spearhead Project GREENBAT. Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular, but many drivers are concerned about the availability of charging points, the limited range and high cost. GREENBAT’s research will help electric vehicles become the norm by using graphene’s properties to create high-performance automotive batteries. The focus of their innovation is the cell’s negative electrode, made from a silicon-graphene composite developed during earlier Graphene Flagship research.
These batteries will perform as well as the projected state-of-the-art models in 2025, helping scientists and engineers in the automotive industry to make long-range, cost-effective electric vehicles a reality.
Clean and safe
A major problem facing the twenty-first century is readily accessible safe and clean drinking water. Even in Europe, the number of contaminants released into the environment rises every day. Worse, no existing technology can remove all these contaminants from our drinking water.
To solve this issue, a new generation of water filters is needed: an innovation that Spearhead Project GRAPHIL hopes to achieve. GRAPHIL’s compact filtration systems will be easily connected to a household sink, or able to be used as a portable device. They aim to keep costs sustainable.
GRAPHIL’s filters use polymeric hollow fibre membranes blended with graphene. They remove both microbiological and inorganic contaminants by combing membrane filtration and absorption mechanisms.
GRAPHIL expect to have a market-ready product by 2024: one that should make clean, contaminant-free water accessible for all.