Overview of Graphene and Related Technology


Interest in graphene and its potential uses has grown rapidly since 2004, when the material was first isolated using the now famous "Scotch tape" method by Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester.

An area of particular significance is graphene-reinforced polymers and after several years of research in the area, it is now well known that the addition of small quantities of graphene can simultaneously provide significant improvements in strength, toughness and electrical and thermal conductivity to a number of polymers. This has raised expectation levels with many industries, such as polymer composites, coatings and adhesives, which are keen to exploit the excellent properties of graphene in order to produce high performance polymer components. However it remains the case that there are no techniques suitable for industrial-scale production of graphene-reinforced polymers.

Specifically, the following issues remain:

  • Current graphene production processes are typically low yield, energy intensive, time consuming and often use large amounts of solvent - as a result, the cost of graphene remains prohibitively expensive for many industries
  • Incorporation and uniform distribution of graphene in low-viscosity thermosetting polymers has not yet been demonstrated on an industrial scale
  • Conventional composite, coating and adhesive processing techniques have not yet been optimised to ensure that graphene remains uniformly distributed during processing

Graphene Production

Graphene production techniques fall into one of two categories; bottom-up or top-down synthesis.

In bottom-up approaches, graphene is synthesized from atomic or molecular species, by a variety of methods such as chemical vapour deposition (CVD), arc discharge, epitaxial growth on silicon carbide, chemical conversion, reduction of carbon monoxide, unzipping carbon nanotubes, and self-assembly of surfactants. Theoretically, the bottom-up techniques allow accurate control of size, shape, thickness and agglomeration. However, these methods of synthesis have some disadvantages such as high price of processing and expensive starting materials, so they are not suitable for large scale production. On the other hand, in top-down processes, the use of graphitic microstructures (such as graphite or graphite oxide) as starting materials offers significant economic advantages.

Graphene-Reinforced Polymers

Thermosetting polymer resins are widely used in applications as diverse as aerospace structures, coatings, automotive components, adhesives and electronic components, but many of these are limited by the strength, stiffness, toughness, electrical conductivity or thermal performance of resins currently available. Primary composite aircraft structures could, for example, be lighter if the current limitations of resin toughness and low conductivity were improved. Graphene has been shown to significantly improve the stiffness, toughness and conductivity of thermosetting polymer resins.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 604143.