Next Solar Cell Breakthrough: “Perfect” White Graphene

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

While certain US legislators have been determined to undermine their own country’s position at the COP21 Paris climate talks, back home the renewable energy science just keeps rolling along. In the latest move, the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has just announced the success of a new method for fabricating “virtually perfect” single layers of so-called white graphene for use in next-generation solar cells, fuel cells, and other clean tech devices.

The new development is a significant one because it pulls a theoretical potential out of the ethereal world and lands it on solid ground, where it can be scaled into mass production.

white graphene boron nitride (solar cells)

Better Solar Cells Through White Graphene

For those of you new to the topic, white graphene refers to a form of boron nitride, a crystalline compound of boron and nitrogen with a distinctive hexagonal lattice structure.

If that sounds a bit like graphene (first described by CleanTechnica as “the nanomaterial of the new millennium“), you’re on the right track.

Graphene possesses unique properties that are tailor-made for the next generation of super efficient, thin, lightweight, flexible electronic applications.

“White graphene” has similarly impressive qualities — even better, according to the folks at Oak Ridge:

The material, technically known as hexagonal boron nitride, features better transparency than its sister, graphene, is chemically inert, or non-reactive, and atomically smooth. It also features high mechanical strength and thermal conductivity. Unlike graphene, however, it is an insulator instead of a conductor of electricity, making it useful as a substrate and the foundation for the electronics in cell phones, laptops, tablets and many other devices.

A Kinder, Gentler Recipe For White Graphene

As with regular graphene, the sticking point is coming up with a low cost, high scale way to manufacture high quality sheets of white graphene. That’s where the new Oak Ridge white graphene development comes in.

The Oak Ridge team credits earlier research, for example at Rice University, with demonstrating the theoretical feasibility of using white graphene in electronic devices. Oak Ridge took it one giant step farther, with a practical, scalable demonstration of the process of converting a triangular form of the compound to “virtually perfect” sheets with a hexagonal structure.

The new process is almost identical to conventional chemical vapor deposition in a furnace, but with a “more gentle, controllable” regimen for releasing the necessary reactant. The more delicate approach leverages conditions inside the furnace to produce an improved outcome.

If you were guessing that it would be interesting to use white graphene as a substrate for graphene, you’re right on the money. You get some mighty interesting results when you combine sheets of regular graphene with white graphene. Rice University researchers have been developing ways to meld the two super-materials together, and members of the Oak Ridge team are also working on a way to merge them into a new material only one atom thick.

Science Gonna Keep On Science-ing

The study behind the new white graphene breakthrough was just published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in its Chemistry of Materials journal under the title “Synthesis of Hexagonal Boron Nitride Monolayer: Control of Nucleation and Crystal Morphology.

Oddly enough (or not so oddly as the case may be), the ACS connection brings us right back around to the aforementioned undermining of US interests at COP21 by certain federal representatives.

COP21 is only one target of the elected officials in question (okay so Republicans), who in their zeal to collect dollar bills from the fossil fuel lobby have taken the climate change denial ball and run with it.

That position locks the entire Republican Party into the position of denying accepted science, which lately has ramped up into the outright harassment of climate scientists by leveraging the oversight tools of Congress.

ACS has had enough of this nonsense, and last week it joined with six other A-list science organizations in a letter slamming Representative Lamar Smith of Texas (guess which party!) for his role in the anti-science crusade, specifically regarding his demands for information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

…These broad inquiries threaten to inhibit the free exchange of ideas across scientific disciplines not only for NOAA, but for other government experts and the academic and industry scientists with whom they collaborate.

We are concerned that establishing a practice of inquests directed at federal scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of government scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy – relevant scientific questions…

Put it this way: when you lose the American Chemical Society, you are far, far gone.

Follow me on Twitter and Google.

Image credit: 3-D structure of hexagonal boron nitride sheets and boron nitride nanotubes, courtesy of the Shahsavari Group via Rice University.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book

Holiday Wish Book Cover

Click to download.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3144 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

18 thoughts on “Next Solar Cell Breakthrough: “Perfect” White Graphene

  • Porous white graphene would even make a much better RO desalination membrane as it is stronger than the carbon graphene. The Oak Ridge National laboratory has previously worked on porous graphene and they were able to reduce the energy required for desalination by 99%. Drought should never be a problem if these porous white graphene will become ubiquitous as desalination membranes that require 99% less energy than traditional ones!

  • One thing that McConnell etc have not taken in board is that the energy transition is the right and the money-saving thing to do even if there is no global warming ( you can’t believe those lying thermometers). For on the energy side, it’s now more or less a wash, and the transition polucy will become net cheaper as technology advances – speeded up by all the extra research money promised in Paris. But you also get huge health payoffs: by my rough calculation, $35 trillion globally by 2060 or so. Just do it.

    • GOP, and in general, Conservatives worldwide, paymasters object (FF interests…) – that’s why they oppose it primarily

      • Plus, according to these people, saving energy and solar panels are a bunch of “tree-hugging hippie crap” and those dirty hippies can’t be right…because they’re a bunch of dirty hippies.

        Knee-jerk tribalism at its finest.

    • I heard that Big Science gets free interns to roam around the Midwest sabotaging thermometers to gradually show higher temperatures!

      It’s TRUE!

      • Actually they do not have to, the siting of many of them and the grouth of cities had done that for them. Of course changing the historical record helps the cause too.

  • The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil and Koch Industries

    • hmm and the Democrat party owned by, Public Labor unions and Govt. supported industries such as… Wind Turbines and other “renewable”but not very useful power options.

      • Tell it to Texas.

        Texas is getting a lot of electricity from wind and it’s keeping their cost of electricity from rising like we see in other states.

  • stay with the science not politics you will have more readers.

  • Wind, unsubsidized, is now our cheapest source of new electricity. The unsubsidized cost of US onshore wind was less than 4 cents per kWh in 2014. It will be even lower in 2015. And still lower in following years.

    If one connects wind farms spread over a modest area one gets “baseload” electricity. 35% of capacity. 85% of the time (the CF of a coal plant).

    Lots of stuff you need to learn Trey.

    • transmission loss become an issue . The number of good sites is limited. if you are correct the no need for tax dollars to be spent and wind will replace other new construction dye to economics. please call china and tell them this news so they can save money on all the new coal plants they are building..
      One must wonder why the wind industry has not done so.
      I do not claim uhi is heating globe I am of the Belize that the shoddy and haphazard ground stations are incapable of the precision that warmists
      Claim and hove no faith in nasa gis (who have changed historic records). to remove my some secret formula the uhi effect

      • No, transmission costs are not an issue. Read up on HVDC and UHVDC.

        We’re roughly at the point at which we don’t need tax dollars to bring down the cost of onshore wind. Offshore wind will likely need some help, there are specialized shore facilities and installation ships to build.

        China is installing huge amounts of wind. And solar.

        Now the rest of your post is word salad. Or letter salad.

        We’re not going to deal with climate change denial and other stupidity here. Post more and you go away.

  • I stated that cites are hotter than the surrounding countryside. That is not in dispute.

    I gave you a link to all the data and scientific papers you need to see that global warming is not a measurement error. I’ll give it to you once more. Read it this time…

    If you read your own first three links you will see nothing about urban areas being a major driver of global warming. There are some minor effects such as a higher use of air conditioning which can result in more fossil fuel use.

    As for your last link, had you read the source I gave you you would have realized that those poorly sited thermometers do not contribute to mismeasure.

    We do not use the temperature reading from each device and average them. We use each site as its own control and measure the change from “normal” for that individual site.

    Had you read the site I linked you would have seen –

    “When compiling temperature records, NASA GISS go to great pains to remove any possible influence from Urban Heat Island Effect. They compare urban long term trends to nearby rural trends. They then adjust the urban trend so it matches the rural trend. The process is described in detail on the NASA website (Hansen 2001).

    They found in most cases, urban warming was small and fell within uncertainty ranges. Surprisingly, 42% of city trends are cooler relative to their country surroundings as weather stations are often sited in cool islands (eg – a park within the city). The point is they’re aware of UHI and rigorously adjust for it when analysing temperature records.”

Comments are closed.