Since its discovery back in 2004, graphene and hype have become synonymous. The hype peaked in 2010 when Dr. Geim and Dr. Novoselov, the researchers who first successfully isolated graphene, received the Physics Nobel Prize for their contributions.
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Regarded as the world’s most conductive material and touted to have a strength exceeding more than 200 times that of steel while being only a single atom thick, it is no surprise why the hype around graphene skyrocketed.
Gartner’s hype cycle is a renowned concept that provides insight into the evolution and progression of emerging technologies like graphene over time. Emerging technologies tend to face unique challenges before they go from a discovery to a real-world commercial product.
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The fundamental laws dictating how atoms interact with one another change dramatically at the nanoscale which gives nanomaterials unique and unprecedented properties. However, the caveat with these properties is that they do not scale readily to human sizes.
Most global industries have never previously used nanomaterials or nanotechnology. Many still consider it to be “science fiction” that is still being developed and will not be completely materialized for some decades.
The early adopters of graphene also did not have much success since most misjudged how challenging it would be to produce graphene of reliable and consistent quality at an industrial scale and at costs that would make it a viable alternative to the materials of today. During the previous decade, large Fortune 500 corporations like Samsung and Intel invested millions of dollars in the development of graphene technology, but very little came of it.
The challenges associated with making graphene at an industrial scale prompted companies to take a “wait and see” approach – no one wanted to solve the mass production problem simply as a result of the sheer difficulty associated historically with commercialization and manufacturing.
CVD Graphene’s Journey as an Emerging Technology
Below are a few examples of emerging technologies that went through a research and development (R&D) period before making their way out into the real world:
- It took nearly 30 years for MRI devices to enter the commercial market once their fundamental mechanism was envisioned
- It took more than a century after silicon was first purified for the semiconductor industry to become established
- Although aluminum was discovered in the 1820s, it was only in the 1900s, during the First World War, that it found its first "killer application" in airplanes
On the road to commercialization, each of these technologies had to overcome some, if not all, of the following obstacles:
- New technologies must be considerably more effective and/or less expensive than current ones
- Commercial-scale production must be feasible, and efficient scalable manufacturing techniques are a key necessity
- Technologies that potentially have a wide range of applications are frequently misinterpreted because their possible uses are mostly constrained by human imagination
CVD Graphene: Reaching a Plateau of Productivity
The literature on graphene applications has covered a wide range of topics, including biosensors and heating films for CVD graphene films. Applications for graphene particulate (GO/rGO/GNPs) in additive manufacturing, such as graphene-enhanced concrete and asphalt, have seen modest growth as well.
Overall, graphene has found itself in a “plateau of productivity” with these applications. However, there is not much public confidence to term any graphene application discovered so far as the definitive killer application.
In the previous decade, the hype around graphene was mostly focused on applications like bulletproof armor and space elevators. But the question is, are graphene bulletproof armor and space elevators the same killer application as airplanes were for aluminum?
Both of these applications need truly perfect graphene at the atomic level or require nanoscale physics to translate readily to human sizes, both of which have proven to be challenging to accomplish with current technology, if not impossible.
While these graphene applications are not necessarily impossible to realize, they are nowhere close to being realized in the near term.
CVD Graphene in the Real-World
Like aluminum, graphene’s killer application may be far from realization and may not exist yet. However, it is crucial to concentrate on what graphene can accomplish right now rather than waiting for a game-changing "killer application" since it is a unique material capable of many incredible things and has the required adaptability to be applied across numerous sectors.
Industries around the world will be able to understand and benefit from graphene’s unique features if expectations are managed realistically rather than focusing on hype-oriented messaging and applications that are far from making it out into the real-world.
It is crucial to look behind the hype around graphene to better grasp where its real-world applications lie and what it is currently being utilized for. This focus will enable graphene, the world's first nanomaterial, to finally transcend its way out of labs and be utilized meangingfully in the real world.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by General Graphene Corporation.
For more information on this source, please visit General Graphene Corporation.