Graphene Profits Soar!

Brian Hicks

Updated June 24, 2013

If you haven’t been following developments in graphene research, you really ought to get moving. There seems to be no end to its properties, and accordingly, its industrial attraction continues to grow.

LiveScience reports that that latest development here is the discovery of graphene’s on-and-off magnetic property. The implication should be obvious: graphene could be used in transistors of the future or practically any switching device that requires a two-state (0s and 1s) solution.

GrapheneAlready, graphene has attracted wide attention due to its peculiarities. It is a two-dimensional flat layer of carbon atoms arrayed like a honeycomb. It is also apparently the strongest, thinnest, and most conductive material known to science.

In sum, it is about 200 times stronger than steel and about a million times thinner than a single human hair. Just one ounce of graphene would cover 28 football fields if laid out flat.

The material is also flexible and conducts electricity better than copper. Those properties alone would have labs frothing at the mouth, so it’s clear that the new magnetic property simply adds to the impressiveness of graphene.

Quick physics refresher. Electrons not only hold charge; they are constantly spinning. Thus far, we haven’t really come up with any real use for this spin. But the potential is there.

Charging Graphene

“Spintronics” is an emergent field of research that aims to do exactly that. The benefit is that electrons retain their spin motion even when no current is flowing through them. However, the big hurdle is that so far, all devices built on the principle of spintronics are passive, so to speak. They can store information depending on the polarity of their magnetic components, but they can’t alternate between those two states. Hence, passive.

LiveScience quotes:

“Usually, in solids, the spins of electrons are pointing in opposite directions and their tiny magnetism does not play any role,” said the lead author of the study, Irina Grigorieva of the University of Manchester. “It is possible, however, to create situations where electron spin will be usefully employed, and this is the objective of spintronics. Its great advantage is that, unlike the charge of electrons, their spin is retained when the power is off, which can be used as the basis for flash-memory like devices.”

But graphene, it seems, will be able to solve that major problem. That would mean “active” spintronics devices might be quite possible. That, in the near future, could mean transistors made out of graphene rather than silicon.

As the LiveScience account shows, just by providing a charge to the graphene (and thus increasing the number of electrons present), the magnetic property can be switched on or off. Moore’s Law, which presently governs the development and advance of electronic circuits, could feasibly be circumvented with sufficient advances in graphene-based circuitry.

While it may not completely be overturned, graphene could easily extend the validity of Moore’s Law significantly by providing a smaller footprint than could ever be possible with silicon-based transistors.

From LiveScience:

“Controlling the spin flow is the Holy Grail of spintronics,” [Andre] Geim said. “The current work shows that we can do it, just by applying electric field, which is a principle similar to electronics currently used in computers. But instead of charge flow, we control spin flow.”

Geim, incidentally, shared the Nobel Prize back in 2010 for developing a technology to extract graphene from common graphite using just sticky tape.


China in the Lead?

China, it appears, is already angling to take the lead in terms of graphene applications. The South China Morning Post reports that certain Chinese companies aim to unveil advanced lithium ion batteries and touch screens that rely on graphene sometime next year.

At present, an impressive range of industries is turning toward graphene research, including aerospace, communications, the solar sector, automotive, and energy storage. There are even some more unlikely industries that seem to find graphene extremely promising; these include the paints and sensors industry and that of oils and lubricants.

Shanghai-based Powerbooster Technologies has already promised to invest $10 million over the next two years in order to push forward with the applicability of graphene technologies to the smartphone sector. Powerbooster presently is partnered with Bluestone, and is providing the latter with two million touchscreen panels every month that incorporate graphene technology.


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