Researchers at the U.S.’s Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a way of using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to employ graphene on a large scale.

Graphene, a material stronger and stiffer than carbon fiber, has enormous commercial potential but is impractical to employ on a large scale, with scientists limited to using small flakes of the material.

A team led by ORNL’s Ivan Vlassiouk has used CVD to make fabricated polymer composites containing 2 inch by 2 inch sheets of the one-atom thick hexagonally arranged carbon atoms.

The findings, reported in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces, could help usher in a new era in flexible electronics and change the way this reinforcing material is viewed and ultimately used, the team suggests.

‘Before our work, superb mechanical properties of graphene were shown at a micro scale,’ said Vlassiouk, a member of ORNL’s energy and transportation science division. ‘We have extended this to a larger scale, which considerably extends the potential applications and market for graphene.’

ORNL’s ultrastrong graphene features layers of graphene and polymers and is an effective conductor of electricity.
ORNL’s ultrastrong graphene features layers of graphene and polymers and is an effective conductor of electricity.

Larger sheets

While most approaches for polymer nanocomposition construction employ tiny flakes of graphene or other carbon nanomaterials that are difficult to disperse in the polymer, Vlassiouk’s team used larger sheets of graphene. This eliminates the flake dispersion and agglomeration problems and allows the material to better conduct electricity with less actual graphene in the polymer.

‘In our case, we were able to use CVD to make a nanocomposite laminate that is electrically conductive with graphene loading that is 50 times less compared to current state-of-the-art samples,’ Vlassiouk said. This is a key to making the material competitive on the market.

If Vlassiouk and his team can reduce the cost and demonstrate scalability, researchers envision graphene being used in aerospace (structural monitoring, flame-retardants, anti-icing, conductive), the automotive sector (catalysts, wear-resistant coatings), structural applications (self-cleaning coatings, temperature control materials), electronics (displays, printed electronics, thermal management), energy (photovoltaics, filtration, energy storage) and manufacturing (catalysts, barrier coatings, filtration).

This story is reprinted from material from ORNL, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.