It is flexible, practically transparent, light and is a great conductor of both electricity and heat. For these qualities, graphene is considered the material of the future that promises to transform the industry as we know it.
"Its exotic properties have the potential to revolutionize existing products and open up new markets that will benefit our daily lives especially", says to Sinc Prof. Stergios Logothetidis. Prof. Logothetidis is the Director of the Nanotechnology Lab LTFN and the Center for Printed and Organic Electronics in Hellas (COPE-H) (Greece).
This scientist is one of the hundreds of researchers participating this week at the Graphene Week in Athens (Greece), an annual conference that brings together the world's leading experts in graphene and that this year has chosen the Greek capital as its headquarters.
Since the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 recognized the experiments made with this material - awarding Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov-, research has focused on this two-dimensional form of carbon composed of flat sheets arranged in a curious hexagonal grid.
But so far, one of the biggest obstacles to reach industry is to get quality graphene that is profitable. This is precisely what the European project Gladiator pursues, in which Dr. Argiris Laskarakis, Head of the Organic Electronics Group at the LTFN and COPE-H, participates.
So far, one of the biggest obstacles to reach industry is to get quality graphene that is profitable
At the Athens conference, the researchers will explain the tools they have designed to develop "high quality, reliable and reproducible graphene", asserts the scientist.
Quality without triggering high costs
To find graphene you do not need to go very far, you just have to look at the tip of a pencil. In one millimeter of graphite, three million layers of this material are crowded, one on top of each other. To produce it on a larger scale, one of the techniques used is CVD (chemical vapor deposition), i.e the reaction of a mixture of gases inside a vacuum chamber that creates graphene in a very thin layer.
In order to improve this production technique, the Gladiator consortium has developed new tools, which allow monitoring the development of graphene in substrates such as copper and nickel, in real time and optically on-site. According to the researchers, those tools could be used both in laboratories and on an industrial scale.
"Gladiator's goal is to improve the quality and size of CVD graphene sheets while reducing the production costs making their use more attractive," summarizes Laskarakis.
Sport elite with graphene
Among the many applications of graphene in fields such as energy and electronics, stands out its ability to produce transparent electrodes in solar photovoltaic cells or for organic electronics of great surface, tremendously flexible. In addition, this material can be designed in organic light-emitting diodes, known as OLEDs that aspire to replace LCD and plasma screens.
However, before all that comes, there are already products in the market that incorporate it, especially in the sports field. Some bike wheels, bicycle helmets, tennis rackets and skis already include graphene in their structure to achieve low weight with a stronger grip.
Within the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) –the previous framework programme for funding research in the European Union–, Gladiator is part of the Graphene Flagship, one of the Flagship Future and Emerging Technology Research Initiatives (FET Flagships).