What is graphene and what is it for?

Graphene is a hard material that can be used without problems in medicine, electronics and computing. For example, it is very useful for making dental prostheses, batteries and even much faster Internet connections. However, its production is expensive and a method has not yet been discovered to obtain it in large quantities.   

With the current technological advance, many people have heard about a new and resistant material, graphene. However, you may have wondered what is graphene? The answer may be complex if analyzed from a molecular point of view, but it can be defined as a nanomaterial made up of a set of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal shape. That is, a single carbon atom cannot form graphene, but collaborates with thousands of atoms to achieve it. In addition, graphene has a very small thickness called two-dimensional, this means that it has two dimensions in space.

The density of graphene is 0.77 mg/m2, so it is considered very light and thin; in fact, a sheet of graphene is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms.

Also, graphene is considered the hardest material, since it has a hardness greater than that of diamond. Likewise, it is characterized by being more resistant to heat compared to other materials.

discovery of graphene

The history of graphene begins in 1930; at that time its existence was known, but the scientists of the time left it aside, since they considered it a very unstable material to work with. 

Some time later, in 2004, Russian scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov made the discovery of graphene that later in 2010 awarded them the Nobel Prize in Physics for their incredible work.

In this same sense, scientists reaffirm that the structure of graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms in the form of a honeycomb and is obtained from natural graphite, which is extracted from coal mines. Likewise, it should be noted that one of the applications of carbon is that, combined with clay, it forms the leads that are used in pencils.

What are the properties of graphene? 

The properties of graphene are diverse, so we will name some of them in the following section:

  • It is a hybrid material , considered as an insulator, semiconductor and conductor. In addition, its small sheets allow experiments that could only be carried out in particle accelerators.   
  • It is characterized by being impermeable to certain molecules and dense. This can be considered as one of the most important properties, because it allows the distillation of some liquids, elimination of toxic substances present in the water, filtration and separation of substances, among other things.
  • Another of its chemical properties is that it supports ionizing radiation, and can be used in the health field, for example, radiotherapy. 

How is graphene obtained? 

There are some methods for obtaining graphene, the most common is to extract it from graphite by exfoliation , that is, strip this material with adhesive tape. In fact, the best quality graphene can be obtained in this way.   

However, there is another new method, which goes through the oxidation of graphite, which allows obtaining a powder called graphene oxide (GO), this is suspended in water and placed in an ultrasound equipment, thus initiating the process of exfoliation. Likewise, it should be noted that graphite is one of the allotropic forms of carbon, as well as graphene.

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of each method:

  • Graphene powder: The process that allows it to be obtained is very cheap and there is more production, but the quality is lower. 
  • Graphene in sheets: It is used both in computing and electronics because in these sectors a highly resistant material is required. However, this method is not very viable economically. 

Learn about the applications of graphene

Previously, we have said what graphene is used for (computing, medicine and electronics). However, in this section we are going to break down a little more its uses in these areas. That is, we will explain it to you in a more concrete way. 

Sanitary equipment and medicine

Without a doubt, graphene has a very high potential in medicine. For example , it can be used in the manufacture of dental prostheses , due to its resistance and the reduction of the proliferation of bacteria. Similarly, it can be used to create any type of sensor, as well as to enhance resonances. 

Uses of graphene in batteries

It is estimated that graphene batteries can be used in the coming years, there are some companies and companies that are already working on it. For example, the Real Graphene company presented in 2020 a 3000mAh battery that charges in 20 minutes through a normal cable. This battery can withstand 1500 cycles without fast charging technology.

Currently, some drones use graphene batteries, making them more durable and lighter, with a shorter charging time. However, these batteries are usually more expensive than lithium batteries and somewhat scarce. It is expected that in the future there will be greater availability and lower production costs, so that computer manufacturers will also use this material. 

Internet connection

Some researchers from the University of Cambridge in 2011 explained that graphene could capture a large amount of light. In this way, it becomes a possible option to create cables capable of transmitting Internet information much faster. 

Photo cameras

According to a group of researchers from Singapore, a sensor made of graphene would increase the sensitivity of a camera, specifically, a thousand times compared to current technologies. 

Flexible screens

Another utility of graphene is flexible screens, since this material is transparent and has flexible capabilities. Without a doubt, graphene can be an excellent option for folding panels in phones.

Spain as a world power of graphene

Spain is one of the countries of the European Union that is at the forefront in terms of the production of graphene mines. China and the United States are its biggest competitors.

Also, Spain is a leading country in the research that is being carried out to determine the applications of this important material. For example, a recent study at the University of Malaga determined that it could be the most suitable material for the production of new drugs. Also, it would be useful to develop therapies regarding cell replacement in Parkinson’s disease.

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