Graphene, a “wonder material” consisting of a sheet of carbon just one atom in thickness and, as the BBC News’s science editor David Shukman succinctly put it in his recent report, “far stronger than diamond, much more conductive than copper and as flexible as rubber,” might very well bring about the next big paradigm shift for electronics, not to mention a host of other fields.
Indeed, the growing interest in these applications has spurred a global race to corner the graphene market, the BBC report shows. Right now, industry giant Samsung leads the way with 407 patents, followed by IBM with only 134 to it’s name. From the international perspective, China leads the way with 2,200 patents to the US’s 1,754, and South Korea a close third at 1,160. What political implications this all might have remains to be seen, but the overarching message of the patent scramble is clear: graphene is slated to be the material of the future.
In October of last year, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology patented a new process for producing semiconductors from graphene which doesn’t require a silicon substrate, a massive leap for the material. Being that graphene is much cheaper than silicon (as well as transparent, flexible, and hundreds of times thinner) this could spell the beginning of the end for silicon-based electronics entirely. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that one just yet; silicon is likely to remain firmly entrenched until graphene finds its legs.
Regardless, it seems such awesome technologies as transparent touch screens you can wrap around your wrist like a watch, solar power cells you can place in the windows of your house, and even electronics stitched into the cloth of your trousers may not be far off. Coupled with reports that Kansas State University researchers have been developing cheaper methods for the manufacture of graphene-based rechargeable batteries, it looks like we’ll see early commercial ventures have the material build a better battery as well.
See a video of the BBC report here.