BrkThu

Science & Technology

If you knew about breakthrough advances in science and technology, would you use — demand — them?`

Superman’s Envy

What’s 300x stronger than steel, harder than diamond, conducts electricity and heat better than copper and is only one carbon atom thick?

Graphene - Graphene Flagship

Graphene — the “wonder material”

Graphene is a two-dimensional (2D) atomic crystal which consists of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It’s been studied as far back as 1859. But the breakthrough discovery which catapulted graphene into a technological building-block-wonder is good old Scotch tape.

No kidding.

In 2004, Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov, at The University of Manchester, discovered a simple way to produce large samples of graphene. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their discovery, which they called the “Scotch tape method”, also known as the micromechanical cleavage technique.

Ten years later, European nation’s “regional” approach to basic research graphene has created a bazillion applications in industries as diverse as: aerospace, automotive, electronics, energy storage, coatings and paints, communications, sensors, solar, oil and pharmaceuticals. Go here for more. And, here, too.

I’m excited about graphene’s use in solar because it has the potential to greatly increase solar cell efficiency as well as accelerate cost reduction.

Research Breakthroughs

A. “Despite its many desirable qualities and potential applications, graphene still isn't as widely used as it could be for one main reason – it's difficult to apply to surfaces, particularly large ones. Attempting to do so often causes damage to the graphene, or otherwise results in a non-uniform, flawed coating. Now, however, scientists have devised a method of simply spraying the stuff on, that actually improves the graphene in the process.” See: “Scientists create 'spray-on graphene'”, Ben Coxworth, 29 May 2014, Gizmag.

B. “For all the attention graphene gets thanks to its impressive list of properties, how many of us have actually encountered it in anything other than its raw graphite form? Show of hands. No-one? That's because it is still difficult to mass-produce without introducing defects. Now a team at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has developed a graphene substitute from plastic that offers the benefits of graphene for use in solar cells and semiconductor chips, but is easy to mass-produce.” See: “Polymer-based graphene substitute is easy to mass-produce”, Darren Quick, 4 July 2014, Science Daily. Source: KIST.

C.“A graphene coating has been used to boost thermal conductivity of the common plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) by up to 600 times. This new result from an international team of physicists and engineers could substantially increase the use of PET and other plastics in technologies such as solid-state lighting and electronic chips, where the ability to conduct heat is essential.” See: “Graphene boosts thermal conductivity of popular plastic”, 28 Oct 2014, at physicsworld.com.

D. “An international team of researchers has developed a drug delivery technique that utilizes graphene strips as 'flying carpets' to deliver two anticancer drugs sequentially to cancer cells, with each drug targeting the distinct part of the cell where it will be most effective. The technique was found to perform better than either drug in isolation when tested in a mouse model targeting a human lung cancer tumor.” See: “'Flying carpet' technique uses graphene to deliver one-two punch of anticancer drugs”, Matt Shipman, Phys.org, 6 Jan 2015.

E. “Graphene just might be the world's most incredible material. A honeycomb-like sheet of pure carbon only one atom thick, it's one million times thinner than a human hair and yet 200 times stronger than steel. It's also an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and is stretchable, flexible, transparent, and impermeable.”

“And now scientists at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. say they have figured out how to make the stuff on an industrial scale--a breakthrough that could open the floodgates to a seemingly endless array of graphene-based products.” See: “Graphene Is The World's Most Amazing Material, And Now We Have A Simple Way To Make It”, David Freeman, 19 Mar 2015, The Huffington Post.

Breakthroughs of a Different Sort

A. “Apply a layer of zwitterionic fullerenes...”
“For decades, polymer scientists and synthetic chemists working to improve the power conversion efficiency of organic solar cells were hampered by the inherent drawbacks of commonly used metal electrodes, including their instability and susceptibility to oxidation. Now for the first time, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a more efficient, easily processable and lightweight solar cell that can use virtually any metal for the electrode, effectively breaking the "electrode barrier.” 'This barrier has been a big problem for a long time,' says UMass Amherst's Thomas Russell, professor of polymer science and engineering. 'The sun produces 7,000 times more energy per day than we can use, but we can't harness it well. One reason is the trade-off between oxidative stability and the work function of the metal cathode.' Work function relates to the level of difficulty electrons face as they transfer from the solar cell's photoactive layer to the electrode delivering power to a device.” See: “A more efficient, lightweight and low-cost organic solar cell”, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 18 Sept 2014, Phys.org.

B. “A multidisciplinary engineering team at the University of California, San Diego developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors in spite of exposure to air and humidity. Their work, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot program, was published recently in two separate articles in the journal Nano Energy.” See: “New solar power material converts 90 percent of captured light into heat”, 29 Oct 2014, University of California, San Diego.

C. “UNSW Australia's solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.” See: “Researchers convert sunlight to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency”, 7 Dec 2014, University of New South Wales, Phys.org.

Ron Baker