Australian scientists make graphene production breakthrough

A CSIRO scientist holds up a thin slice of graphene. Image courtesy of CSIRO.
A CSIRO scientist holds up a thin slice of graphene. Image courtesy of CSIRO.

A team of scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have discovered a new approach to producing graphene.

The CSIRO team discovered a way to break down soybean oil into a number of different carbon structures from which graphene could be easily synthesized.

This process, which has just one step, is vastly more efficient and economical than pre-existing methods used to produce the material.

In the past, chemicals scientists would need to use explosively compressed gasses in a highly controlled environment, maintaining specific temperatures and pressures for hours at a time.

By contrast, the new process developed by CSIRO, which they are calling ‘GraphAir’, can be undertaken in ambient air pressures.

“This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han.

Another advantage of the GraphAir process is that it can use a number of different ‘waste’ materials to synthesize graphene from.

“We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Dong Han Seo.

Graphene itself is a form of carbon in a crystalline lattice that is just one atom thick. This structure gives it a number of unique and highly useful properties include superior electrical and thermal conductivity.

These properties would allow for the production of massively improved batteries, computers, and solar panels, but until now the high cost of producing the material has stifled its commercialization.

Now, however, CSIRO hopes that GraphAir will scalable in such a way that large-scale graphene production can become commercially viable.

Should this happen, then a great number of revolutionary graphene-powered devices become possible.

“Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications,” says Dr Zhao.

With this in mind, CSIRO has stated that it is looking to partner with industry in order to make this a reality.