Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has become the “Flat Stanley” of the sustainable new millennium. A two-dimensional material that seems to be popping up just about everywhere in nanomaterials research, graphene has wowed scientists with its potential for, among other things, replacing silicon in computer chips as a light, durable, ultra-compact, low cost, high-efficiency conductor. Now researchers at Rice University have conceived a material that pairs the conducting properties of graphene with an insulating variant called graphane.
Rice University writer Mike Williams, who came up with the Flat Stanley moniker, explains that the new development could lead to an even smaller class of electronics than is possible with graphene alone. Though a permanent solution to e-waste is years away, at least the graphene-graphane connection could help reduce the sheer bulk of the problem.
Graphene, Meet Graphane
Graphene is composed of carbon atoms in a single layer, that form a pattern similar to a honeycomb. In graphane, hydrogen atoms are attached to both sides of the carbon sheet, creating a sort of nano-sandwich. The addition of hydrogen lends the material insulating properties, without interfering with graphene’s legendary strength and flexibility. According to Williams, Rice University scientists have calculated that the properties of a graphane sheet could be manipulated by selectively removing hydrogen atoms, leaving gaps or “wells.”
Graphane, Meet Quantum Dots
The researchers posit that the induced wells in a sheet of graphane would act like quantum dots, or q-dots. A q-dot is a nanoscale crystal that possesses conductive properties that can be precisely controlled. Initially q-dots were developed using toxic metals, but non-toxic q-dot materials have been emerging, and Rice’s graphane wells would add an important new option to the list.
The Rice University research has been funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, which has been focusing on cutting edge alternative energy and conservation technologies to help lead the civilian sector away from the risks and vulnerabilities of continued dependence on fossil fuels. In addition to exotics like graphane and microbial fuel cells, the Navy has been aggressively pursuing biofuels, solar energy, high efficiency lighting, and other conservation measures.
Image: Flat Stanley by emples on flickr.com.