A serious challenger has emerged to take on graphene’s title as the miracle material of the 21st century, and that is a common, silvery looking mineral called molybdenite. Like graphene, molybdenite occurs in nano-thin sheets. It could play an important role in engineering the next generation of super small, super high efficiency electronics, especially when it comes to saving power while a device is in standby mode.
A New Role for Molybdenite
Molybdenite is commonly used in lubricants and in steel alloys. Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have now determined that molybdenite is also a highly efficient semiconductor. It can be fabricated in sheets that are much thinner than conventional silicon sheets, which enables electrons to move around more efficiently. The lead researcher asserts that compared to conventional silicon transistors, a molybdenite transistor would use about 100,000 times less energy in standby mode.
Move Over, Graphene…
Molybdenite also has an important advantage over graphene, because it has an ideally spaced “band gap” (a band gap is an electron-free space, which electrons can “hop” across). Graphene lacks this naturally occuring feature, though researchers are discovering ways that graphene can be manipulated into producing the desired properties.
If cost-efficient graphene fabrication can be commercialized, it could have a long term advantage over molybdenite. As a mineral, molybdenite is a non-renewable resource. Given that the amount of electronic equipment flooding the world right now is nothing compared to what it’s going to be in the future, mining the earth for components may not be sustainable over the long run. In contrast, graphene has potential has a renewable resource: researchers have discovered that it can be made from plain table sugar.
Image: Molybdenite on quartz by John Chapman on wikimedia commons.