Similar to how Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold, Dr. Anirudha Sumant, a materials scientist at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory, is turning diamond into graphene.
However his new method of synthesizing graphene is no fairytale, and it’s such a breakthrough that it recently garnered TechConnect’s “National Innovation Award.”
“Within one minute we can get to 800-1000 degrees Celsius, and within one minute we can convert diamond into graphene,” Sumant said in an interview. “With this method we deposit a very thin layer of diamond, and then we use a thin layer of nickel as a catalyst. The nickel destroys the diamond lattice and morphs the diamond into amorphous carbon, and then the amorphous carbon morphs into graphene.”
While it may sound more like myth than reality, Sumant assured us that the science behind it is very real, and it could have big implications for graphene production.
“This opens up an area of greater scale for graphene, as there are various methods of creating it,” Sumant said. “The most popular is by growing graphene on copper or nickel, and then you etch this metal and you transfer this graphene onto an insulating substrate like SiO2, or silicon. These methods have inherent problems. For example, with copper you have to etch it and transfer the graphene, which leads to a lot of impurities, which degrades the graphene.”
“It was very interesting because of all the entries, only 15% are given this award,” Sumant said. “It was really great that I’ve been going to this conference for two years and both years my team has won an award for our research.”
In 2016, Sumant and his team won an award for using graphene and nanodiamond for its superlubricity, reducing friction to increase energy efficiency.
Sumant is one of the leading scientists working in the graphene industry, and he is no stranger to some of the problems facing the new “wonder material,” particularly with regard to standardization of the industry.
“For a newcomer in the field, there have been companies from different countries that are selling what’s labeled as “graphene,” but if you test it, it’s graphene with high impurities, and many times it’s simply graphene oxide,” he said. “I think there’s a real need for standardization. In Europe they’re working on this with the National Physical Laboratory in the U.K., and I think there are other agencies which are coming up and proposing this.”
Sumant will be speaking at the National Graphene Association’s Graphene Innovation Summit & Expo in Nashville, October 29-31 this year. The event will focus on the commercialization of graphene, its potential and its limitations.
“It’s really important to have a realistic discussion of the promises and real-world application of graphene, and that’s not going to be possible until researchers and entrepreneurs can sit down at one table and talk about the prospects of this material,” he said. “It takes time, and it happens with every new material. It happened with high-temperature superconductors, it happened with carbon nanotubes. There’s always some kind of futuristic thing that people always vision.”
Sumant added that while having a futuristic vision is great since it brings inspiration, it is important to look at the future of graphene realistically.
“We’re going down the right path, the applications will come when the scientists and engineers work together with industry leaders and see where the niche is,” he said. “That’s why I think the NGA conference is a step in the right direction. More dialogue needs to happen, and that’s how you find the next great application.”
Graphene Entrepreneur is a division of the National Graphene Association. The Mission of the NGA is to bring together current and future graphene stakeholders — entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, developers and suppliers, investors, venture capitalists and government agencies — to drive innovation, and to promote and facilitate the commercialization of graphene products and technologies in the United States.
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