In this interview, Dr Elena Polyakova from Graphene Laboratories talks to AZoNano about the challenges of manufacturing graphene on a large scale, and the opportunities for commercial applications of graphene.
Please could you give us a brief introduction to Graphene Supermarket and the products you supply?
Graphene Supermarket is an online retail store owned and operated by Graphene Laboratories, Inc. At Graphene Labs, we have the ability to do custom projects and R&D, working with materials sold on the Graphene Supermarket to best meet our customersï¿½ needs. We supply researchers with a full range of graphene products, including graphene on dielectric substrates, 3D graphene foams, CVD graphene, graphene nanopowders, graphene oxide, and graphene TEM grids.
Though the Graphene Supermarket is the most visible division of Graphene Laboratories, the company also does research and development work on novel graphene applications..
Graphene is often hailed as a "wonder-material". Do you agree? What properties do you see as making it particularly special?
Yes, graphene has some remarkable properties which make it very exciting for use in new and emerging technologies. Graphene is remarkable not because of one property in particular, but because it is highly conductive, flexible, transparent, thin, and has a high mechanical strength, all at the same time. It also keeps its properties at the nano-level, which is unique. However, itï¿½s important to note that there have yet to be revolutionary advancements in commercial devices with graphene. If and when scientists succeed in integrating graphene in modern devices, it will truly be a wonder-material.
Many of the applications of graphene are still in the early development stages. What everyday consumer products using graphene do you think we will see first?
Figure 1. TEM image of graphene grown on a nickel substrate using Chemical Vapour Deposition. Image credit: William Glover and Katelyn Murtagh, ZS Genetics.
I believe the first application of graphene in consumer products will simply be composite materials for high-end products such as racing bicycles, as a replacement for other carbon materials such as carbon fiber. There is a good chance that the first high-tech application of graphene will be as a replacement for indium tin-oxide in consumer electronics, namely cellular phone touch-screens. The difficulty is bringing the scale of quality production up to par with industry standards while bringing down costs; when that hurdle is passed, graphene will become a true competitor with other materials.
Did you encounter any big challenges bringing graphene into commercial production? How did you overcome them?
There is only one suitable process for commercial production of graphene at this time: Chemical Vapour Deposition. The problem with CVD production is that the cost needs to be brought down, and it only grows graphene on metal catalysts such as copper or nickel. In order for graphene to be of any use in research or commercial applications, it must be transferred to a substrate such as glass, PET, or silicon/silicon dioxide. When the metal catalyst is etched away, it is done so with chemicals which can damage the quality of graphene.
The biggest challenge is definitely making sure we maintain our reputation for selling quality materials even though the process can be difficult. We do this by having highly trained staff knowledgeable in best-practices of graphene transfer.
Figure 2. Top: SEM image of 3D graphene foam. Bottom: Graphene foam from Graphene Supermarket.
What sort of customers do you supply graphene to? What sort of applications are they focused on?
We supply graphene to customers ranging from universities, research laboratories, private companies, and government agencies. The applications range from research of grapheneï¿½s properties to study for commercial projects. It can be difficult to know exactly what our customers are working on, as its often classified research in the organization; itï¿½s our job to supply researchers with high-quality materials and provide support where we can, but most of our customers work is done outside of our facilities. However I can say that aside from research into grapheneï¿½s properties, we have customers studying its applications in photovoltaics, transistors, energy storage, and composite materials.
What makes your graphene products unique compared to other suppliers?
We have an exceptionally strong R&D team, comprised of scientists holding Ph.D.ï¿½s in related fields. Our competitive advantage lies more there than in the products themselves. We are always happy to help customers with projects and to provide solutions to their problems, which isnï¿½t something most graphene retailers can offer or do as well as Graphene Laboratories.
Which graphene products do you find are the most popular with customers? Why do you think that is?
All of our products find customers for various different applications. We have found that 3D graphene foams are particularly popular, largely because of their potential applications in energy storage. Graphene foams have a high surface area and porosity, making them ideal for energy-related applications. We also sell a lot of graphene on dielectric substrates, which are ideal for photovoltaic applications and graphene transistors.
In addition to graphene foams, many of your newest products are single-layer graphene films on dielectric substrates. What new applications do these products open up for your customers?
We have actually been retailing single-layer graphene on dielectric substrates for a while, but are always adding new products to that line. There are many different types of projects that can be done with single layer graphene on dielectric substrates. These include: photovoltaic applications, graphene transistors, and using graphene as a replacement for indium tin oxide. These are the applications which are particularly exciting to people, and generate a lot of hype. I think that is why graphene on dielectric substrates do particularly well in sales.
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