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Graphene is the super substance that could

replace silicon, plastic and glass

Credit
: Graphenea
The silicon, plastic, and glass that make up much of our tech these days could soon be replaced
with something old, yet completely new: Graphene.
If graphene sounds like something that could fell a superhero, you're almost right. Its the
thinnest substance known to science, yet its 300 times stronger than steel and harder than a
diamond. High-quality graphene is also transparent and flexible, and its an excellent conductor
of heat and electricity.
Weve known of graphenes existence since the mid-1800s, but scientists have been able to
experiment with graphene only in the past decade. In 2004, two researchers at the University of
Manchester isolated graphene for the very first time, usingbelieve it or nota chunk of
graphite and a roll of adhesive tape.

So what exactly is graphene?

Graphene is a crystalline structure composed entirely of carbon atoms, arranged in a hexagonal,


honeycomb-like pattern. Graphene's single-atom thinness (meaning it has length and width, but
no height) makes it as close to 2D as any substance can be.
Graphene is also a fundamental component of other allotropes (structurally different forms of the
element carbon). These include charcoal, carbon nanotubes, and other fullerenes (molecules
composed solely of carbon).

Marco Chiapetta

Graphene's atomic structure renders it one of the strongest materials known.


It is graphenes unique structure and composition that endows it with so many valuable
properties. Carbon atoms have four electrons in their outer shell, three of which form strong
covalent bonds with the electrons in neighboring carbon atoms. This gives graphene its signature
hexagonal shape. The fourth electron in each carbon atom, now known to be fermions, behave
like relativistic particles described by the Dirac equation (which, in another sci-fi twist, also
implies the existence of antimatter).
Graphene is lightweight, flexible, impermeable to other elements, and virtually transparent

Getting back to graphene, it is those free electrons, in conjunction with the materials relative
uniformity, that make graphene such an excellent electrical and thermal conductor, superior to
copper and silver respectively. The strong covalent bonds between the carbon atoms, meanwhile,
give graphene its strength.
Layers of graphene are bonded by weak van der Waals forces (the sum of attractive forces
between two surfaces, accounting for a lizards ability to climb vertical walls, among other
things). The bonds between the carbon atoms in each layer of graphene, on the other hand, are
incredibly strong; in fact, a hammock fabricated from a single-atom-thick sheet of graphene
could support a load of nearly 9 pounds.
High-quality graphene is also lightweight, flexible, impermeable to other elements, and its
virtually transparent. Thanks to the space between its atoms, the material absorbs just 2.3 percent
of white light, allowing 97 percent to pass through.

How graphene might be used


Potential applications for graphene are nearly limitless. Numerous projects are already underway
in industries ranging from consumer electronics to sporting goods. To date, graphene-based
consumer products have been limited to items that use a small amount of the substance in
protective coatings. Once the mysteries of graphene manufacturing have been unlockedmore
on that lateryou can expect to find the material everywhere.
One area where graphene is likely to have the most immediate impact is the manufacture of
flexible and transparent electronics, such as touchscreens. Graphene could replace indium, which
is one of the rarest elements on Earth. (Carbonthe foundation of grapheneis one of the most
abundant elements on the planet.) Graphene is also lighter, thinner, and stronger than indium.
Ultra-strong windshields that double as display clusters are not out of the realm of possibility.
Neither is Tony Starks transparent smartphone.

IDGNS

The case for this smartphone prototype is made from glass. A graphene enclosure would be
lighter and just as transparent.
Graphenes electrical properties also render it an ideal material for building integrated circuits.
During a Q&A session at the 2013 Intel Developers Forum, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the
company is evaluating graphenes potential use in chip manufacturing, replacing silicon. Routine
use, he said, would be a few generations out, putting it roughly in the 2020 timeframe.
Graphene might also serve as the foundation for next-generation solid-state capacitors that
charge more quickly than todays offerings and hold a charge for much longer. And graphene
could usher in an age of ultra-powerful, lightweight batteries with far more capacity than
anything available today. By super-cooling graphene and surrounding it in strong magnetic
fields, researchers have also been able to alter the direction of the flow of electrons along
graphenes surface, based on the spin of the electrons, which opens up possibilities for quantum
computing.
Graphene wont be relegated solely to electronics and display technology. Its excellent strengthto-weight ratio could also pave the way for strong, lightweight vehicles, while its transparency
and electrical conductivity make it a good candidate for future solar panels. Punching nano-sized
holes in a sheet of otherwise impermeable graphene could be used in machines that pull a single
strand of DNA through the hole, for rapid DNA sequencing, or water purification or desalination.

Manufacturing graphene

Before those fantastical devices can become reality, however, industry must first develop a
reliable, cost-effective manufacturing process. That's where the majority of current graphene
research effort is concentrated.
Graphene is being manufactured today using a number of methods: The Scotch tape method
(also known as mechanical exfoliation or the cleavage method), is the simplest. This is how
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov isolated graphene from a larger hunk of graphite in 2004
research that led to their being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their
work isolating graphene. The pair donated this autographed tape dispenser, a chunk of graphite,
and a graphene transistor to the Nobel Museum.
The adhesive tape is used to extract small pieces of graphite from a larger chunk. A layer of
graphene is peeled away from the graphite by continually folding the tape over the pieces and
then separating the tape. The strength of the adhesive overcomes the weak van der Walls forces
holding the layers of graphite together until there is a single layer, yielding graphene.
Graphene could become as ubiquitous as plastic.
Mechanical exfoliation can be used only to isolate relatively small pieces of graphene, however,
so researchers are experimenting with other methods to produce larger quantities.
Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is one of the most promising. In this process, chemical vapors
are evaporated in a furnace, leaving a graphene deposit on a thin metal substrate. A similar
process has been used in the manufacture of very large integrated circuits (VLSI) for many
years. Graphene can also be isolated by submerging graphite in a liquid and blasting it with
ultrasonic waves to separate its individual layers, or by slicing an edge of a cylinder formed from
graphene (also known as a carbon nanotube).
Using these methods, scientists have been able to produce pieces of graphene of various qualities
and sizes, including long graphene strands that have already been used to make super-capacitors.
While some companiesmost recently Samsunghave claimed breakthrough achievements in
graphene manufacturing, most of the known work remains academic and has not yet scaled to
real-world industrial applications.
Were still a ways off from widespread availability of graphene-based microprocessors, flexible
touchscreens, and similarly exotic new devices. But when industry perfects a practical and

inexpensive means of manufacturing graphene, you can bet it will become as ubiquitous as
plastics are today.
Image credits: The image at the top of this page is courtesy of Graphenea, a graphene
manufacturer and supplier. The image of the graphite, adhesive tape dispenser, and graphene
transistors was released by the copyright holder into the public domain.

Future of fast computer chips could be in graphene and not silicon says new
research

STFCs Dr Emma Springate, one of the research team, with the Artemis laser
(Credit: Monty Rakusen Photography)

5 August 2014 - Scientists using lasers at a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
facility in the UK believe that they are a step closer to finding a replacement for silicon chips that
are faster and use less energy than at present.
The team has tested the behaviour of bilayer graphene to discover whether or not it could be used
as a semiconductor. Their results suggest that it could replace silicon transistors in electronic
circuits.
Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a very thin, almost transparent sheet, one atom thick. It is
known as a miracle material because of its remarkable strength and efficiency in conducting
heat and electricity.
In its current form graphene is not suitable for transistors, which are the foundation of all modern
electronics. For a transistor to be technologically viable, it must be able to switch off so that
only a small electric current flows through its gate when in standby state. Graphene does not
have a band gap so cannot switch off.

The research team, led by Professor Philip Hofmann from Aarhus University in Denmark, used a
new material bilayer graphene in which two layers of graphene are placed one on top of the
other, leaving a small band gap to encourage the transfer of energy between layers.
Using Artemis at STFCs Central Laser Facility, which is based at the Rutherford Appleton
Laboratory in Oxfordshire, the researchers fired ultra-short pump laser pulses at the bilayer
graphene sample, boosting electrons into the conduction band.
A second short, extreme ultraviolet, wavelength pulse then ejected electrons from the sample.
These were collected and analysed to provide a snapshot of the energies and movement of the
electrons.
We took a series of these measurements, varying the time delay between the infrared laser pump
and extreme ultraviolet probe, and sequenced them into a movie, said STFCs Dr Cephise
Cacho, one of the research team. To see how the fast-moving electrons behave, each frame of
the movie has to be separated by just a fraction of a billionth of a second.
Professor Hofmann said, What weve shown with this research is that our sample behaves as a
semiconductor, and isnt short-circuited by defects.
There can be imperfections in bilayer graphene as the layers sometimes become misaligned.
The results of this research, in which the graphene showed no defects, suggest that further
technological effort should be carried out to minimise imperfections. Once this is done, there is a
chance that the switch-off performance of bilayer graphene can be boosted enough to challenge
silicon-based devices.
Graphene transistors could make smaller, faster electronic chips than are achievable with silicon.
Eventually more and more transistors could be placed onto a single microchip to produce faster,
more powerful processors for use in electronic equipment.
More information

Marion O'Sullivan
STFC Press Officer
Tel: 01793 445627
Mob: 07824 888990
Notes for editors:

The research paper Ultrafast Dynamics of Massive Dirac Fermions in Bilayer Graphene is
published in Physical Review Letters.
It is also featured as a spotlight article in the American Physical Societys Physics Viewpoint.

The Central Laser Facility (CLF) at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is one of the
worlds leading laser facilities providing scientists from the UK and Europe with an unparalleled
range of state of the art technology. CLF is a partnership between its staff and the large number
of members of UK and European universities who use the specialised laser equipment provided
to carry out a broad range of experiments in physics, chemistry and biology. Artemis is the
CLFs facility for ultrafast laser and extreme-ultraviolet science.
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VLSI/Semiconductor tech 2015: At 7nm Silicon giving way to Ge, III-IV, CNT and Graphene
In 1950s, when industry has moved from vacuum-tube diodes and triodes to solid-state diodes
and transistors, electronics device researchers have selected Germanium as their semiconductor
material. Early solid state diodes and bipolar junction transistors were made using Germanium
material. But quickly Germanium replaced with silicon. In today's complementary metaloxide
semiconductor (CMOS) digital integrated circuits, silicon is used near 100%. Now with the
geometries of MOSFET shrinking further down the 14/10 nm, the performance of silicon as
MOSFET channel material is questionable, with limitations in frequency of switching, and even
the switch itself is erroneously operating. Well the future can be called post-silicon era, where the
industry is moving from microelectronics to nanoelectronics/photonics.

IBM said in one of its release "Their (latest Si chips) increasingly small dimensions, now
reaching the nanoscale, will prohibit any gains in performance due to the nature of Silicon and
the laws of physics. Within a few more generations, classical scaling and shrinkage will no
longer yield the sizable benefits of lower power, lower cost and higher speed processors that the
industry has become accustomed to."
In the immediate future, the transition into <7nm is basically moving into non-Silicon CMOS
switching, EUV lithography and increased on-chip photonics, a combination of control of
electrons and photon flow in single integrated device. The 3D growth of structures will be more
prominent.
Germanium and Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) and other such high electron mobility
materials are been successfully explored either to replace Silicon or to work along with Silicon.
The advantages of a Germanium and other compound semiconductor material over Silicon at
deeper nodes includes: Germanium and compound semiconductor materials offer higher electron
and hole mobility and density allowing switching on and off the CMOS transistor faster while
continuing to shrink the size down to 7 nm.
Both three-dimensional FinFET and trench like process and as well as two-dimensional
traditional process are explored by semiconductor researchers. MOSFET channels of compound
semiconductor material or Germanium are created over the fin like structures of Silicon (which
are called finFET) or in the nm thin trenches (quantum well FET). One of concept is called
quantum well-high electron mobility transistors (QW-HEMT). A CMOS with p channel MOSFET using Germanium or InGaSb and N-channel MOS-FET using InGaAs (Indium Gallium
Arsenide) has emerged as one of the solution.
IBM claims its researchers have demonstrated the worlds highest transconductance on a selfaligned III-V channel metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) field-effect transistors (FETs) device
structure that is compatible with CMOS scaling at 7nm and beyond.
In year 2013 itself, Nanotech researcher IMEC has successfully applied fin replacement process
to fabricate both III-V FinFET as N-channel and strained Ge to form p-channel FinFETs.
Let's look the basic difference between Silicon vs Germanium, comparing both benefits and

drawbacks of Silicon and Germanium:


Before praising Germanium and compound semiconductor materials, Its good to know why
Silicon was using all these years so extensively. Silicon is the most commercially and also
technically advantageous semiconductor material compared to other semiconductor materials.
Silicon is the most abundantly available semiconductor material on Earth. It is basically the sand
what we see around us in the form of Silicon oxide. Silicon, which basically in crystalline form
can withstand high-temperature. Silicon conducts heat faster. Even by the physical properties
Silicon is stronger and harder like many other metals such as Iron. Please see the table below of
comparison of Silicon with Germanium. The reverse breakdown of Silicon diode is higher than
Germanium and lesser chances of avalanche breakdown compared to other semiconductor
materials. In bipolar junction transistors, the variation of collector cut-off current with
temperature is lesser in Silicon compared to Germanium. Germanium crystal requires annealing
in case of implantation process is used. Well, huge number of advantages of Silicon over
Germanium.

Pic above: Comparison table of Silicon, Germanium and Indium Gallium Arsenide.

Pic above: Junction diode characteristics of Ge and Si.

Pic above: Comparison of collector current against base-emitter voltage for Germanium
and Silicon
We should also talk about the weaknesses the Silicon has over other semiconductor material.
Silicon-based transistors are not fast in switching compared to many other semiconductor
materials. It is very difficult to generate photons/light out of Silicon material. The electron
mobility inside Silicon material is less compared to many other compound semiconductor
materials including Germanium. The forward voltage drop of a Silicon diode is higher compared
to Germanium diode. At deeper nodes such as 7 nm, these things started mattering, where Silicon
failing to offer reliable switch which can work at higher frequencies as well as generate light for
high-frequency communication between different functional units inside a chip.
So, is chips with non-Silicon semiconductor material going to be expensive? Mostly yes for
some time, and that is the challenge for the chip industry to keep the cost of chips lower while
increasing the performance.
Below we present you some of the latest development in integrated circuit device fabrication
post 10/14nm.
1. Ge and InGaAs CMOS

The P channel Germanium MOSFET can be built similar to Silicon PMOS, without much
process changes. See the figure below. But building NMOS from Ge is found to be tough. So
many researchers have built NMOS using compound semiconductor material InGaAs, which
requires a further complex process compared to Silicon NMOS.

The Hetero junction N channel MOSFET uses a concept called quantum well MOSFET, and the
process is Silicon foundry friendly, which uses MOCVD equipments.
To achieve higher electrostatic integrity, barrier layers of Indium Aluminium Arsenide and
Indium Phosphide are used between Indium Gallium Arsenide channel and base Silicon
substrate.
The challenge here is to have a electrical performance in sync with Silicon type CMOS where,
operating voltages, (0.5V) on-current and off-current matches.
The Indium Gallium Arsenide channel is separated with gate using Al2O3 (Aluminium Oxide)
and Hafnium Oxide gate stack. In some cases Zirconium Oxide is used instead of Hafnium
Oxide.
2. All Ge CMOS:
The poor hole mobility of InGaAs and the epitaxial InGaAs nMOSFET on Si are prone to
defects and high leakage current, which makes it very challenging to achieve InGaAs-nMOS/GepMOS CMOS below 14 nm CMOS. So all-Ge CMOS logic is touted as best. Fabricating the P
channel MOS-FET out of Germanium is easier, but N channel MOS-FET out of Germanium
faces some problems. Ge N channel MOS-FET is prone to large equivalent-oxide-thickness
(EOT) and fast mobility degradation with increasing Eeff because of surface Fermi-level pinning
to valance band and poor high-K/Ge interface and low dopant activation.

IMEC researchers have used novel laser annealing and proper gate stack, small EOT of 0.95 nm,
small sub-threshold swing of 106 mV/dec, and 40% better high-field mobility than universal
SiO2/Si data were achieved in Ge nMOSFET.
Imec says "Such all-Ge CMOS has irreplaceable merits of much simpler process, lower cost, and
potentially higher yield than the InGaAs-nMOS/Ge-pMOS CMOS platform."
There are cases InSb suggested as replacement for Ge for P MOS FET, but the industry is not so
progressing in this area.
In another case of all-Germanium-based CMOS transistor, researchers at Purdue University have
made all Germanium CMOS device. The difficulty of making N type contact with low electrical
resistance in Germanium-based NMOS devices, is overcome by Purdue researchers. They have
dope Germanium with impurities to reduce the electrical resistance and they have removed top
layer of Germanium, which provides a good contact.

Pic Above: All Ge CMOS


To give you some more latest information on other options in nano devices:
3. CNT and RRAM
If you're wondering what about Carbon Nano Ttubes (CNT), and most talked about material
Graphene and any such newly invented materials, they are being immensely explored by
researchers to replace Silicon.
Researchers are exploring to use CNTs in the deep node chip manufacturing. IBM has

demonstrated CMOS NAND gates using 50 nm gate length carbon nanotube transistors. Carbon
nanotubes are single atomic sheets rolled into a tube shape. Stanford University in US has done
commendable job in this area. Temperature stability is big issue in CNTs. Read the article "3D
CNT logic and RRAM memory device to outperform today's silicon chips" to know more on
Stanford's Researcher's achievement.
4. Graphene:
The most talked about material Graphene is excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and it is
also strong and flexible. Electron mobility in graphene is 10X faster than Silicon. Graphene's too
much conductance is becoming difficult to handle, but over time it may be the blessing. Most of
the researchers see higher opportunity for Graphene in Tera Hertz applications . Compatibility of
Graphene with other semiconductor industry materials is a issue.
IBM has already demonstrated graphene based integrated circuit receiver front end for wireless
communications. The circuit consisted of a 2-stage amplifier and a down converter operating at
4.3 GHz.
5. Germanane:
Graphene like atomic thin material called Germanane is also explored. Germanane is made by
bonding hydrogen to Germanium in the z direction of each atom. Germanane offers 10 times
higher electron mobility compared to Silicon and five times more than Germanium. Germanane
is said to be very less reactive when exposed to air and water.
Ohio State University researchers, who have pioneered in developing Germanane suggest
Germanane suits well for Silicon-based manufacturing process compared to Graphene.
6. EUV and other advancement:
Well above all is about materials, another important stumbling block when industry moved to 7
nm is printing of patterns using extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV technique). There is
significant amount of progress in this area in 2014.
At the SPIE Photomask Technology 2014 conference held on 16-18 September 2014, keynote
speaker Martin van den Brink, President and CTO of ASML, said that extreme ultraviolet (EUV)
source technology is reaching performance levels that enable introduction into production lines
in select cases at the 10 nm node, and that progress is such that it should soon be ready for fullscale introduction at the 7 nm node.
The manufacturing of pure Ge CMOS or compound semiconductor CMOS devices is driven by
technical advances in the atomic-scale synthesis of oxide heterostructures. Interface
superconductivity, magneto-electric coupling, and the quantum Hall effect in oxide
heterostructures are said to be the opportunities in this rapidly emerging field. Atomic Layer
Deposition (ALD) fabrication of non-Silicon MOSFETs over Silicon base is explored at sub-10
nm nodes.

The final winner and the market:


Though which technology comes out as winner is not clear, but what is clear is nano device
fabrication is hitting a cross-road junction. There are lot of forces both geo-political, market and
technology working to take control of the next gen chip fabrication. Its fight for controlling
nanodevice economics to dominate the technology world. The idea is not only to offer the best
technology in some case, or the cheap tech in other case, but both are aimed at how to finish the
competitor and leverage their present strength and infrastructure. The partnerships among
competitors keep changing based the changing common-factor. What the trend seen is, the
number of players are increasing. Asia is on the path of having highest number of semiconductor
fabs in the world. China has lots of fabs and more is on the plan, Brazil has one semiconductor
fab and is expanding, and India soon going to have two fabs. In a news report from Sputnik
News, Alexander Yakunin, CEO of Russian United Instrument Corporation said "By 2020, 95
percent of key components of our [military] technology will be domestically produced". India's
'Make In India' move is also aimed at local production of electronics components. Amid all these,
fabless business model is still a winner.
If you are interested to know the amount of semiconductor materials available on earth. Below
image will help you.

Well, we are still not taking about another fast emerging area of organic semiconductor material
such as Pentacene in this article, that field looks to be even more cutting edge/bleeding edge
technology in nano devices, we will write on that in a separate article.
ps: This new version is edited to correct some grammer/spell errrors and also some small
additions.
Graphene: Material Replacing silicon in Near future
Posted on April 14, 2011 by Manoj Kumar S

4 Votes

Most of us may be knowing about the allotropes of carbon Like Diamond, Graphite, Fullerenes
etc.
A new addition to the family of allotropes of carbon is GRAPHENE, Because of it special
characteristics it is expected to Replace SILICON in the world on ELECTRONICS

Graphene is defined as a one atom thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a Hexagonal format
OR a flat monolayer of carbon atoms that are tightly packed into a 2D honeycomb lattice.
Now, We are in a silicon era, since it well-know that the VLSI, ULSI technologies are the most
recent technologies being used in the CHIP manufacture process and Using silicon the MOORE
law prediction is being deviated.
Most of the research scholars and scientists Predict that the using graphene the deviation can be
brought back to it actual prediction.
why is graphene given such importance in recent days???
What makes graphene a better material compared to others???
The above are the couple of questions that may keep going on usually in everyone mind.. so the
below goes the answer.
Graphene, since it is a flat monolayer carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal shape, it is easy in
converting or manipulating the shape of the graphene into fullerene, or Carbon nanotubes or
graphite.
In the below diagram we can see the convertion of graphene into fullerene, carbon nanotube and

graphite.

Till recent past the hardest material found on earth was DIAMOND, but Now GRAPHENE
replaces the place of Diamond. Considering the density of the graphene, i.e the density of the
hexgonal shaped carbon atoms, The density of carbon atoms is so high that even when a
HELIUM gas(helium has only on electron in its shell, so its the smallest element) is passed
through the graphene monolayer , the helium gas couldnt cross the graphene.
Coming to its electrical property, the mobility of electrons in graphene high when compared to
any other metal and it has highly modifiable electrical property , it can be modified to play the
role of conductor or insulator or semiconductor easily.
APPLICATIONS OF GRAPHENE

Just Be the words GRAPHENE- A MATERIAL THATS GOING TO REPLACE SILICON IN


NEAR FUTURE everyone can make out the range of applications that
graphene has in its hand.
Graphene is a promising material for electronics switching system, In field of Biotechnology and
specially in touch screen technology.
Recently graphene is being used in field of biotechnology, using the graphene new nano pore
device, these are the devices used in detection of single molecules. These can be used for the
know the patters present in the DNA samples.
Graphene NanoRibbons(GNR) are alternatives to copper in integrated circuits. Since copper is
the basic material used in the silicon chips, instead of copper for connections in the ICs, GNRs
may be used.
Most of us might have seen the transparent monitors in movies like avatar, ironman, eagle eye
etc the one in blue color..
yes, those are the once that can be manufactured from graphene. The major advantage of those
transparent monitor over the traditional onces is
that, there is no need of the back light which is a must in the traditional monitors.
The displays being manufactured may not be like the traditional one, i.e it may not be rigid kind
of material. Since the grahene is a monolayer material and it has high felixiblity with having a
great strength(tenstile strength is 200 times better than steel), These monitors of graphene can be

flexiblity bent without any risk.


Now, Recently in 2008 IBM T J watson research center designed the fastest field-effect transistor
(FET), operating at 26 GHz.
The noble prize in 2010 in physics was been awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov,
both of the University of Manchester, for groundbreaking experiments regarding the twodimensional material graphene.

Here is the video that can make u ppl how will the future of graphene will be ..
Is graphene to replace silicon?
ParisTech Review / Editors / September 30th, 2013
nanotechnology technology adoption

Forming the only known foil capable of being folded as many times as necessary without
breaking, a graphene sheet is a million times thinner than a human hair, 200 times more resistant
to breakage than steel (its tensile force is in excess of 130 gigapascals), more conductive than
copper, perfectly transparent, and totally flexible. Furthermore, graphene is impermeable to all
gases. Typically, it takes a new material thirty to forty years to be integrated into consumer
products. And this particular one, in the opinion of its Mancunian discoverers, could one day
revolutionize electronics, energy, aerospace and biotechnology. Already it is being used in
photovoltaic cells, electric vehicle batteries, and data centers processors.

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Physically, the pattern of a graphene sheet is that of a honeycomb lattice. If sheets are stacked,
you get graphite, which is the gray charcoal matter that makes up our pencil leads. In just one
millimeter of graphite, there are three million sheets of graphene stacked As a matter of fact,
this amazing material made it to the Hall of Fame of legendary research in the most uncanny
manner, in 2004, when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two professors at the University
of Manchester Nobel prizes in 2010 isolated a graphene layer from a pencil lead by simply
using a roll of adhesive tape to extract ever thinner graphite layers one by one until they
formed but one single layer of atoms.

Multiple uses
Of all the materials consisting of a single layer of atoms, graphene seems to be the most
promising one. An MIT team has modeled the use of these materials in photovoltaic cells. The
PV industry needs a radical technological revolution because its economic model, which is
largely based on government grants, is floundering. By stacking a layer of carbon atoms
graphene with a layer of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), one obtains a solar cell whose
performance is admittedly poor but 1% but that is infinitely small: but one nanometer thick,
i.e. one millionth of a millimeter thick. In total, it therefore generates 30 times more power per
volume unit than the thinnest solar cells known (made either of gallium arsenide, silicon, or
indium selenide) which are one micron thick, and whose performance near 30 %.
Modelling of a graphene sheet

Researchers have calculated that by stacking six layers three graphene layers and three layers
of molybdenum disulfide performance could theoretically reach 10% for a thickness of only
3 nanometers. Unprecedented energy efficiency! Should such a minute graphene solar cell get to
be manufactured on an industrial scale, it would beat all records in terms of power density. It is
nevertheless true that at this stage, such a revolutionary cell remains purely theoretical: it has not
even been tested in the laboratory.
Graphene is also capable of conferring considerable strength to ordinary materials. The Korean
Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has just demonstrated that by stacking copper
layers with graphene layers, the material obtained is 500 times stronger. Even though graphene
only amounts to 0.00004 % of the materials weight, it increases its overall strength by a factor
of several hundred.
Graphene is also keenly anticipated to finally advance research on the battery of the future. In
theory it would be possible to charge a smartphone in less than ten minutes. A graphene battery
powering an electric car would be able to bestow a real autonomy to the vehicle, and would at
long last make it a true mass consumption product. With graphene, which is highly conductive, a
battery charges much faster for only half the weight.

With a leading edge on the subject, a team from UCLA, led by Professor Richard Kaner, has
developed an electrochemical capacitor consisting of a network of graphene micro-capacitors
(watch video presentation). This ultracapacitor boasts performance which is incommensurate
with the most efficient lithium-ion battery: it is 100 to 1000 times more powerful and three to
four times denser. What we are witnessing here is a true technological breakthrough that paves
the way for future electric vehicles equipped with ultra-reliable capacitors instead of expensive
and heavy batteries whose performance is irregular. In particular, it would do away with the
performance degradation that inevitably takes place over time, and with the eventual premature
wear that batteries experience in case of prolonged non-use of vehicles. Electric vehicles could
then directly compete with the heat engine, for a fraction of the cost of transport of the order of
just one euro for 100 km
The UCLA team also successfully overcame a major challenge: the actual production of
graphene. How did they pull it off? Richard Kaner and colleagues used quite the ordinary laser
that of a Lightscribe optical drive, ordinarily used to burn DVDs. After covering the DVD with a
film of graphite oxide, the laser bombards it and produces a graphene electrode, called LSG
(Laser Scribed Graphene). One day, researchers hope, it will be possible to print graphene on
rotaries just like newspapers But theres still a long way to go. And, of course, both the
adhesive tape technique and the DVD laser one are obviously unable to provide large quantities.
However, it is undeniable that progress has been made. While in 2004, Geim and Novoselov had
produced a graphene piece too small to be visible to the naked eye, Samsung Electronics, in
2013, managed to showcase a sheet a full 76 centimeters in diameter.
Graphene vs. silicon
In the world of electronics, where silicon has reigned unchallenged for decades, does graphene
have a destiny? It could certainly perform as a coolant. Johan Liu, a professor at the Chalmers
Institute of Technology in Sweden, explains it: In a computer, the hottest spots
microprocessors for the most reach temperatures that range between 55 and 115C (160 to
240F). By applying a layer of graphene, we have lowered the average temperature by 13C
(55F). Suffice to say that a 10C working temperature can halve the life of electronic
equipment and that half of the energy consumed by a data center is attributable to cooling to
understand that this is a tremendous gain in energy efficiency. The future may thus bring chips,
microprocessors and transistors that operate at impressive speeds, and yet that do not heat up.
Were one step closer to the mythical cold computer!
Proponents argue that graphene will make it possible to manufacture cell phones so thin that they
can be integrated into paper or tissue. Due to its simple structure, it will be possible to craft
transparent screens affixed to walls, windows or even glasses. In short, electronic devices wont
be manufactured in plants anymore. Having become ultrathin, they will simply be printed out.
One can already picture electronic paper and roll-up communication devices! Incidentally,
researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have developed a highly conductive graphene

ink that will make such communication tools possible. One significant challenge remains, though
maintaining ink conductivity after printing.
Among the innumerable proposed applications for graphene are desalination filters. To date, the
process of desalination is one very expensive operation still unaffordable in many countries
due to the amount of energy required. Lockheed Martin is developing a graphene filter, the
perforene, which could revolutionize reverse osmosis desalination . Perforene is about 500 times
thinner than the best filters available on the market its membrane being even thinner than the
atoms it filters! As for the energy and pressure required filter the salt, they are about a hundred
times lower.
While graphene is the most famous of 2D materials to have been discovered, it is not the only
one anymore. A dozen of them are being studied worldwide. They demonstrate complementary
properties that, by combining with the graphene, will add further functionality. Boron nitride, for
example, is also just one atom thick but unlike graphene, it is an insulator and the most
effective ever. As for molybdenum disulphide, three atoms thick, it forms a semi-conductor
which is much lighter and sturdier than silicon. In Manchester, Konstantin Novoselovs lab has
combined the highly conductive graphene with dichalcogenide, a transition metal that absorbs
sunlight and converts it into electricity. The combination could lead to exterior paints capable of
producing the electricity needed to operate the household equipment within a building.
When cutting edge becomes literal, expect a backlash
As might be expected, the graphene-mania, as well as the funding it attracts, have caused a
backlash in the scientific community. Some point out that the new carbon atom frameworks have
often turned out to disappointing. Fullerenes, for instance, much touted in the 1980s, and carbon
nanotubes (rolled up graphite sheets), which had prompted great excitement in the 1990s, have
found no real commercial application so far.
It is true that graphene does not yet have all the qualities to revolutionize electronics. For the
time being, industry giants will have to do with silicon as graphene is still hindered by certain
shortcomings: for example, the output frequency of graphene devices is sometimes
disappointing. It is not a semi-conductor, nor is its conduction band good enough to allow it to
perform as a stand-alone transistor, the basic building block of electronics. In such an iconic
market, graphene would therefore have to settle for narrower niches, such as high frequency
electronics components.
Professor Novoselov himself acknowledges it: the craze has gone too far. From his point of view,
commonly used materials should only be replaced whenever the characteristics of the new
material can lead to applications competitive enough to justify the cost and the inconvenience of
such a changeover. In short, the future of graphene depends on the development of applications
designed specifically around it. Now this raises a problem of industrial culture. Mark Goerbig,

professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Engineering School in Paris, explains it: It will take a
generation to train engineers who are comfortable with graphene. What is more, according to
this researcher, silicon is not done achieving electronic efficiency gains in terms of Moores Law
(the doubling of the power of transistors every 18 months), even though graphene is certainly
capable of outperforming silicon at some point in the future, but it is still uncertain when that
might happen.
The economic equation is a tough one. In 2013, it costs $ 800 to produce one gram of graphene,
which means the golden years are far from over for silicon and its derivatives. Especially so
considering that on top of the difficulty of manufacturing, there are handling hazards to cope
with. When a material is but one atom thick, any action on it is likely to modify its very
structure. Furthermore, no one knows the consequences, in terms of wild fusion, in the case of a
juxtaposition of several different nanomaterials. And in particular, any addition of solvent
threatens the very conductivity of graphene.
As a result, graphene is raising the same concerns as other nanomaterials. According to studies
conducted by Brown University in Rhode Island, the sharp edges of graphene may pierce body
cells, therefore allowing the substance to get into the human cell and to disrupt its normal
functioning. Researchers suggest there are very real nano-toxicity hazards: fragments may
penetrate the cells up to a depth of 10 microns. Issues might then arise should we manage, for
example, to create graphene-based artificial retinas. Backlash for the eyelash
As for the strength of the material, which is its iconic property, it happens to also be
questionable. Researchers at Rice University in Texas have shown that on the edges of a
graphene sheet, the hexagonal structure of the material degenerates into pentagons and
heptagons, which are considerably less robust. There is, according to them, a risk that the
slightest imperfection in a sheet creates long rips that spread, just like a crack in a windshield
does.
What of the geopolitics of graphene? Even though the initial breakthrough was achieved in
Manchester, UK, Europe is lagging behind. The inventory of patents made by Cambridge IP, a
British consultancy specialized in technological strategy, established that by Q4 2012, there were
2,204 patent publications on graphene in China, 1754 in the United States, 1160 in South Korea
and only 54 in the UK. So, the Europeans stepped up. In January 2013, the European
Commission launched the Graphene project with a massive budget: a billion dollars over ten
years. Its stated objective: to develop industrial applications for graphene, and for the wider
family of two-dimensional materials. The project is led by a consortium of 74 academic and
industrial partners from 17 countries. It brings together 126 research groups (including five
French laboratories), that will work on eleven projects: materials, health & environment, basic
research on graphene, two-dimensional materials, high-frequency electronics, optoelectronics,

spintronics, sensors, flexible electronics, energy applications, nano-composite materials, and


production technologies.
What should we retain from all this excitement? First, the challenge this diruption represents in
basic research: its been less than ten years since this material was first isolated, and everything
remains to be done to master its physics and to explore the immense possibilities it opens up in
many a field. Second, even if serious questions remain about the potential dangers that could
derive from mass production (think of asbestos), it now seems self-evident that in vital sectors
such as photovoltaics, computer components or electric batteries, graphene can lead to
technological breakthroughs that would bring about radically game-changing results. The next
stage? Moving to industrial production a case to follow closely.

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