Irish scientists develop a cheaper method to produce graphene inkLeigh Mc Gowranon January 21, 2022 at 10:57 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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Irish scientists have developed a new low-cost method to produce graphene ink, an incredibly strong and light ‘wonder material’.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics and at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for advanced materials, have managed to print out the non-toxic ink using a household printer, using a method that could substantially reduce graphene production costs.

Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like pattern. It is considered to be the world’s thinnest, strongest (40 times stronger than diamond) and most conductive material of both electricity and heat. Published in the Nature journal 2D Materials and Applications, the team said graphene is expected to have major commercial applications in the future.

One team member directing the research was nanoscientist Prof Jonathan Coleman, who is head of the School of Physics at Trinity. Last year researchers led by Prof Jonathon Coleman showed it had potential for wearable electronics and medical diagnostic devices. Coleman’s team has previously created nanocomposites of graphene with polymers including those found in rubber bands and silly putty.

The researchers said graphene production is known to have high start-up and labour costs, with the current global supply estimated to be only 1 kilotonne.

With this new production method, the cost could be reduced to £20 per litre once scaled up. This could lead to multi-tonne quantities if successfully commercialised, far exceeding the world’s current supply.

“We have demonstrated energy storage composites and printed electronic components in our work however, there are many more applications that could be achieved with the graphene inks, such as reinforcement composites or printed sensors,” Lead author Dr Tian Carey said.

Alongside colleagues at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, Newcastle University and Norway’s University of Stavanger, the study’s approach is based on the process of the exfoliation of graphite – an abundant bulk material commonly found in pencils – that is made up of layers of graphene. They found a process to exfoliate graphene flakes from graphite with minimal defects.

Schematic of the in-line shear mixing process. Image: AMBER

Through this method, the researchers were able to make a high-quality graphene ink. The team also tested to ensure the graphene had no toxicity, as it has applications in wearable electronics, textile electronics, composites and printed interconnects that could involve human contact with the material.

“Graphene is just one example of a conductive 2D material; there are hundreds other lesser-known 2D materials which have different but complementary electronic behaviour that we can apply this process to and create a suite of inks with different but complementary properties,” Carey added.

The team used the ink to make conductive interconnects and lithium-ion battery anode composites that could potentially connect a battery to a textile sensor, which could be used to measure vital signs on a wearable health device.

Commenting on his team’s success, Coleman said: “About ten years ago, I pioneered a simple method of making graphene from graphite through exfoliation in a household kitchen blender that has since been scaled and commercialised.

“In this work, we have adapted the method further for industrial application and shown we can produce high-quality graphene at low cost in a highly efficient manner that is easily scalable.”

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