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Graphene: The right choice for composite strength and durability

May 27, 2016

Graphene is a 2D arrangement of carbon atoms in a honeycomb lattice. When used to make composites, the material can be as strong, flexible and diverse as the application requires.

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Graphene is a 2D arrangement of carbon atoms in a honeycomb lattice. When used to make composites, the material is as strong, flexible and diverse as required. Image via The Manufacturer

Graphene is a two-dimensional arrangement of carbon atoms in the shape of a honeycomb lattice. Its configuration makes it incredibly strong while keeping it thin and lightweight. Incorporating graphene into composites can enhance any number of properties of the bulk material including, but not limited to, conductivity and tensile strength. Graphene-based composites can be as diverse as the situation requires. For example, one graphene-polymer composite is light, flexible, and has a high electrical conductivity while another dioxide-graphene composite exhibits high photocatalytic efficiency.

However, commercial applications rely on high-volume production of high-quality synthetic graphene. This kind of production is possible in the future, but has not yet been scaled-up to the amount of throughput necessary to supply a burgeoning industry. Graphene composites serve to rectify this situation by allowing materials engineers to make use of graphene’s “miracle properties” without the expense of a large quantity of graphene. Additionally, graphene for use in composites can be produced through less expensive methods such as graphite exfoliation which produces graphite nanoplatelets instead of high-quality single sheets of graphene.

Recent Commercial Developments

In November of 2014, Haydale announced improvements in the mechanical performance of carbon fiber composites (mainly through the use of graphene platelets) which could help make damage resistant composites with beneficial compression properties for use in the enhancement of aircraft wings. In October of 2014, Angstrom Materials announced graphene-enhanced polymers with great electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties and Vittoria unveiled bicycle racing wheels (called Quarno) made from graphene composites which are said to be the fastest in the world.

Recent Research in Graphene Composites

In November of 2014, Indian researchers were able to harness light and successfully degrade the pollutants BPA, phenol, and atrazine using graphene-based composites. Months earlier, in February 2014, researchers at India’s VIT University created a composite composed of graphene oxide and PVC with promising results for use in battery electrodes, membranes, coatings, and various EMI applications.

Graphene is one of the strongest materials known to man, and when incorporated in composites has been shown to improve the properties of the bulk material even at very low graphene contents. These low required amounts of graphene make graphene-based composites much easier to commercialize than other graphene applications. All in all, graphene composites are light weight, inexpensive, and high-temperature materials suitable for a wide range of applications and which could very soon be seen in use in all sectors of the economy.

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