Graphite. The lead that fills our pencils. It’s not a substance you think too much about.
Unless you’re looking to enhance the life of an electric car battery, universalize solar power, or – hey, why not – fly an invisible plane.
It’s the stuff of science fiction movies, where we travel to the future and see how mundane those things will one day become.
Yet a substance called graphene, a simplistic form of graphite, is offering these opportunities in real time.
Graphene is essentially an atomic form of graphite. It’s the atom-thick layer of bonded carbon atoms that, when layered, creates a flake of graphite.
Research on graphene is developing as its properties are becoming more apparent. It’s incredibly strong and has great conductive abilities.
And so researchers in India have approached a breakthrough in graphene solar panels.
Graphene, if used in a solar panel, has the potential to greatly decrease the cost of creating them.
Not only is it cheaper than silicon, but it also absorbs light much more effectively.
However the cost is boosted back up by the fact that graphene solar panels require other, more costly materials as well.
But Indian researchers have developed graphene quantum dots that are even smaller particles of graphene and that make solar panels cost-efficient.
Quantum dots, another way of making solar panels using tiny particles, were most often made of cadmium or lead, but these materials are toxic and dangerous.
Graphene quantum dots, while doing the same thing as those of cadmium and lead, are not toxic and therefore realistic.
Graphene’s conductive properties have allowed for some other developments.
Researchers at Seoul University have found an application for graphite that allows the creation of a transparent speaker.
These speakers, beneficial for use in windows or even computer screens, are actually created by printing the graphene on poly vinylidene fluoride, or PVDF.
After a few chemical processes, the PVDF was put into an inkjet printer, and graphene ink printed several layers onto the sheet.
The researchers found these flexible, transparent speakers worked well.
They can even function to block out sound, according to PhysOrg.com.
And that’s not all graphene can do.
Bounce some microwaves off of it, and it can make a plane invisible.
This requires some additional research, but it is as close as science has ever come to an aero-invisibility cloak.
Graphene is also being used to develop lithium-ion batteries, the kinds of rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles.
Scientists have found that sulfur cathodes could provide a cheap, effective option for lithium battery cathodes.
The issues, however, include sulfur’s poor conductivity and tendency to dissolve polysulfides.
But wrap sulfur particles in graphene and these problems could disappear.
Graphene allows for the conductivity lacking in sulfur. The graphene wrap used also aides in trapping polysulfides.
The graphene-sulfur cathode, a cost-efficient option for lithium-ion batteries, also provides a “higher energy density”, according to PhysOrg.com.
Several American companies are exploring this opportunity.
Nanotek Instruments, based in Dayton, Ohio, is a producer of graphene. They have received grants as part of the Ohio Third Frontier program.
And Maxwell Technologies (NASDAQ: MXWL), a company that makes energy storage products, has just received $500,000 in state and federal grants to explore various energy storage options.
$200,000 of this will be split between Nanotek and another Ohio company in researching options for lithium-ion batteries.
Maxwell is interested in Nanotek’s graphene as an option for the electrode material in their ultracapacitator energy storage.
Money is going into the research, and so far incredible results have been coming out.
We could be flying invisible planes before you know it.
That’s all for now,