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Technique to obtain high quality graphene and composites

A scientific team at the CSIC has developed a new method to produce high quality graphene and composites which combine graphene with other materials like gold, silver, oxides and polymers.

With the new method, nanometric and micrometric layers of graphene can be obtained, the applications of which go from drug transport to energy storage, structural materials, sensors and devices in molecular electronics. The method has been patented by the CSIC and will be commercialized by Gnanomat, a technology-based company.  

The most outstanding gain of the development is that it enables the obtention of graphene combined with other materials. “Compared to other current methods, this is a great competitive advantage”, says Bernardo Herradón, CSIC scientist at the Instituto de Química Orgánica General and one of the authors of the work.

“We have combined graphene with very different chemical substances: metals such as gold and silver; metallic oxides, such as titanium and magnetite; and high technological value polymers, such as cellulose and polyaniline”, explains Herradón. This opens news and unexpected possibilities. “The combination of graphene with nanostructured chemical species can generate new materials with an immense technological potential: structural materials, materials for electronics or power storage”.

Other advantages

One of the current methods to produce graphene is based on atomic deposition, a progressively thin film deposition of carbon atoms which are in the gas phase. This method allows us to obtain a high quality graphene in few layers, but it is very expensive.

Another current method is based on a chemical process, in which the graphite is first oxidized and, afterwards, reduced. “Although this graphene has lower quality, it is good enough for quite a few applications. But this method generates waste and needs a lot of energy”, says Herradón. Another method is based on splitting graphite layers using solvents or a mechanical device, which produces graphene of varying quality but in any case higher than the previous method.

Compared to these current methods, the new one, which is based on graphite exfoliation, allows one to obtain a high quality graphene using less energy, less chemical treatments and steps in the manufacturing process. Besides, although solvents are used, these are not expensive and can be recycled.

The future

Nowadays, the production of graphene is mainly addressed to researchers. But, says Herradón, “the moment when graphene will be widely used is not far off”. Experts foresee many possible applications, which go from the energy sector, to electronics and structural materials for several uses, sensors and mobile applications.

The Gnanomat company is now looking for investors and partners to cooperate and commercialize the new technology. “We have just received news that our project has been endorsed by the EU, in the SME Instrument program, which is aimed at small and medium-sized companies. The fact that the EU has positively assessed our project is an important boost”.