Much, perhaps too much, has been said about graphene over the last few years. It has been sexed up as the wonder material of the age. Monolayer fishnet stocking up the shelves of future technological developments from sub-microscopic transistors and molecular computers to super-strength aerospace and space elevators. As with every new discovery parboiled in hyperbole there is something of an inevitable backlash as the early promise does not materialize quite as quickly as the headlines distil away. Nevertheless, materials that win Nobel Prizes do tend to stick around, and one might imagine the same will be true of this carbon allotrope first peeled off a glass slide with a piece of sticky tape.

A recent study, available from Cientifica, calls graphene an "Opportunity" and quotes that noblest of laureates Sir Andre Geim who co-discovered graphene at the University of Manchester as not chasing industry, he is, he says, not interested in creating the analogue of Silicon Valley from graphene. Nevertheless, major players in the tech world are in hot pursuit of this cool material, everyone from Apple, Samsung, Nokia, and IBM to Hyundai, Toyota, and Airbus, from Bosch to Repsol to Foxconn. The Cientifica report looks behind the hype, ditches the claims of myriad headlines and strips back those graphene fishnets to the barebones to reveal the graphene value chain the avenues beyond the nanotech world, the true course that long-term winners will take, with many falling by the wayside of this emerging technological roadmap, to mix a few metaphors.

The report points out sensibly that just as with all nanomaterials some are more equal than others. The term "graphene" simplistically is the carbon allotrope we might picture as a single layer of graphite, but in fact it refers to a wide range of materials, ranging from highly ordered monolayers grown by chemical vapour deposition (CVD) to crudely separated sheets of graphite (the TV crafts show "pencil and sticky tape" products, one might say). Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and thus has distinct destinations in the realms of materials science, engineering and technology. But, will graphene just be another buckyball, a flattened fullerene kicked into touch?

"While it is no means certain that graphene will change the world, at the time of writing its prospects appear far rosier than those of previous carbon nanomaterials, report author Tim Harper says. There are some areas of technology that are very mature and unwilling to change to new form factors as would be required with a shift from inorganic semiconductors to graphene, for instance. However, Harper points out that, "Paths have been identified to large scale economic manufacture, and the material lends itself to large scale processing via a wide range of technologies." This bodes well for development, although some areas are more accessible than others, it should be possible, he adds, to integrate graphene into a variety of production processes with relatively little disruption and for the material to move into technologies that exploit its electronic, photonic and energy properties.

"Graphene is no different to any other emerging tech," adds Harper. "The people who shout (and hype) the loudest are often the people who know least about it." He confesses to having been called by turns a pessimist, a cynic and has made himself very unpopular with a few nanotube investors, but his aim is not to rain on anyone's proverbial parade with his predictions, but just to take "a rational approach" to the hype and the reality of the new materials.

Further reading

David Bradley blogs at and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".