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Clean Power Image Credit: Illustration by Andrew Shea for Columbia Engineering

Published on June 2nd, 2013 | by James Ayre

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Graphene Is The Strongest Material In The World Even When It Has Defects, Research Finds



Graphene is the strongest material in the world, even when it has notable defects, new research has found. Even when stitched together from numerous small crystalline grains, rather than being created directly in its perfect crystalline form, the material possesses its trademark and remarkable strength. This new research contradicts previous theoretical simulations which predicted that such defect-containing graphene would be much weaker than graphene in a perfect lattice.

Image Credit: Illustration by Andrew Shea for Columbia Engineering

Image Credit: Illustration by Andrew Shea for Columbia Engineering

It’s been said that graphene is so strong that “it would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap.” The impressive strength of the material, as well as its many other remarkable qualities — the ability to convert a single photon of light into multiple electrons, the absorption of a very large spectrum of light, unique optical properties, etc — make it a very appealing and potentially revolutionary material.

Graphene is — essentially — just a single atomic layer of carbon that is structured as a honeycomb lattice. “Our first Science paper, in 2008, studied the strength graphene can achieve if it has no defects — its intrinsic strength,” says James Hone, professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia Engineering, who led the study with Jeffrey Kysar, professor of mechanical engineering. “But defect-free, pristine graphene exists only in very small areas. Large-area sheets required for applications must contain many small grains connected at grain boundaries, and it was unclear how strong those grain boundaries were. This, our second Science paper, reports on the strength of large-area graphene films grown using chemical vapor deposition (CVD), and we’re excited to say that graphene is back and stronger than ever.”


The new research corrects the mistaken belief that defects present in graphene are the cause of the extremely low strength seen in some previous studies — the lowered strength is actually the result of the methods used for post-processing CVD-grown graphene. The Columbia Engineering research team has remedied this by developing a new process which prevents damage from being done to the graphene during transfer.

“We substituted a different etchant and were able to create test samples without harming the graphene,” states the paper’s lead author, Gwan-Hyoung Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Hone lab. “Our findings clearly correct the mistaken consensus that grain boundaries of graphene are weak. This is great news because graphene offers such a plethora of opportunities both for fundamental scientific research and industrial applications.”

The primary way that graphene is currently manufactured is via chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Sheets of graphene as large as television screens can be grown this way. And the method has the advantage of being much-more economical than alternatives.

“But CVD graphene is ‘stitched’ together from many small crystalline grains — like a quilt — at grain boundaries that contain defects in the atomic structure,” Kysar explains. “These grain boundaries can severely limit the strength of large-area graphene if they break much more easily than the perfect crystal lattice, and so there has been intense interest in understanding how strong they can be.”

So the researchers set out to find what was making CVD graphene weaker than the graphene made with other manufacturing methods. What they found was that a specific chemical used in the process was damaging the graphene, diminishing its strength.

“This is an exciting result for the future of graphene, because it provides experimental evidence that the exceptional strength it possesses at the atomic scale can persist all the way up to samples inches or more in size,” says Hone. “This strength will be invaluable as scientists continue to develop new flexible electronics and ultrastrong composite materials.”

Possible uses include: next-generation solar cells, ultra-flexible electronics, television screens that roll up like posters, extremely strong composite materials that could eclipse the strength of carbon fiber, and possibly even the creation of a space elevator.

The new research was recently published in the journal Science.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • Stephen Suley

    http://www.mining.com/forget-graphite-and-diamonds-scientists-find-new-supermaterial-78008/
    Seems this new carbyne material would be better suited still. Let’s see a space elevator

  • Leon Raiche

    Haven’t handled one of those tools since I came to Florida. Arthritis! Although it might just require one whack to fell that particular “tree”. By the way, that’s a lot of sap. Suppose it’s maple?? Graphene maple syrup. There oughta be some market for it. We could boil it electrically with the juice from your turbine. That’s gotta be close to perpetual motion. A real closed system. Where’s the patent office, anyway?

  • Leon Raiche

    Thanx Bob. I knew somebody could come up with an uncomplicated solution to my dilemma.
    – Green Mountain Boy

    • Bob_Wallace

      And I was wondering why a Vermonter wouldn’t have suggested keeping a sharp double bit on hand from the getgo….

      Since we don’t know if the stuff does wick.

      What if it did and we could tap it up where it leaves the troposphere, put the water in a feedstock and use it to power a turbine? Just think of the power we could gen with 58,000 feet of head. About 25,000 psi. Wouldn’t need much flow with that sort of pressure.

      Where’s Rube when we need him?

  • Leon Raiche

    Just a thought about the envisioned “Space Elevator”:

    Might this 25,000+ mile long cord/cable act as a wick and start atmosphere bleeding off into space?

    C’mon; someone has an answer to this question that is away beyond this old Green Mountain Boy’s job description.

    • Bob_Wallace

      This ex-Smokey, present day Pacific Coastal Range Mountain Boy finds that you presented an interesting and entertaining question.

      Those unintended consequences do spring up and bite one in the butt. If we do attempt to build a graphene space elevator cable we might be well advised to keep a sharp hatchet at hand so we can cut the sucker loose if we notice a drop in atmospheric water….

  • Rudi Kelle

    how did they get the elephant to sit on a pencil ? ….

  • martykayzee

    Indestructible socks. Buy one pair for life.

  • Wern Pobatschnig

    Not so fast.Unless this grapevine is bio- degradable,it’s sure to be another nail in the coffin of our all ready overextended ecological system!

    • Tony R.

      Grapevine? This article has nothing to do with grapevines.

  • Georg Hauser

    @John Masters :
    Please note: presently is to low prices available from carbon fiber extreme loadable yarn, fabric and tow not as stabile then from nanotubes with 9,000-10,000 but 3,500-4,500 is a normal range tensile strength you can get and that is three times of that of steel for the same diameter with less than a third of weight

  • TRussert

    Maybe a solution to global warming? The commercial and consumer uses for this material would seem endless. Reclaim the “C” in CO2? In Methane (CH4) as well? How about a practical use for all our discarded plastics? The possibilities appear infinite.

  • Jesse Custer

    want to buy:
    Graphene layered sword that never dulls or breaks with a blade edge precisely one molecule in width.

  • Jesse Custer

    So if you lined the bottom of a pair of sneakers with a thin line of the stuff would the rubber soles never wear down?

    …Come to think of it, if it has decent traction, put it on car tires :3

  • Etch

    Dreadful English here.. is this a paki website based on stolen shit? I think so…

    • alison

      Dreadful Demonstration of English Ignorance here . Does this site Often attract the small minority of English people who are scared of brown people? only I’d like to state, for the record, that this fool above, does not represent the majority.here In the UK.

    • Tony R.

      If you had bothered to check the “About CleanTechnica” link at the top of the page before posting your silly comment, you wouldn’t have posted your silly comment.

  • Greener

    Would it mean we can substitute steel in RCC slabs with graphene sheets?
    I would love to see that day!

  • Russell

    And it could no doubt help with the wind kite power company mentioned earlier. They said 3c/KWh, what would it be with cheap graphene I wonder?

    • disqus_ooeOMumBe6

      Who knows?

      How about wrapping wind turbines in graphene and getting solar and wind power from the same device?

    • Tony R.

      We’ll probably never see 3¢ per kWh electricity, because the system is rigged. Remember when they promised nuclear power “too cheap to meter”? That never happened either, due to endless roadblocks created by the antihumanist “environmental” crowd. Those who would ban graphene applications, such as the nitwit Wern Pobatschnig, above, are already coming out of the woodwork before a single practical application for the material has been devised.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lazlo.long.1 Lazlo Long

    Could it also be used as a molecular chain? Why limit it to just sheeting??
    How about 3D printing or extrusion??

  • newpapyrus

    If covered with an ultra thin layer of aluminum, graphene could be used to produce titanic light sails that could transport thousands of tonnes of cargo between the planets.

    Marcel

    • Jesse Custer

      until they hit a space iceberg

      • bussdriver78

        A space iceberg is a comet

        • Detrix

          It’s not healthy that I’m such a nerd that I laughed at this.

  • John Masters

    I wonder if Graphene will have any application as parachute, balloon or wing-suit applications. Imagine a glider made with this as its skin.

  • Adam

    This should be used in military applications to provide better protection from small arms fire. Such as vest, helmets, or vehicle linings. This would provide a light-weight alternative to the current issue.

    • John Doe Number One

      While it would provide fast development and application of the product, Keynesian economics need to be avoided. There are literally thousands of consumer products for which this product could be used. If the military steers the course of development, it will ultimately narrow the scope of application since private investment solicitation would likely cease entirely.

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