Editorial Feature

What Are Graphene Nanoribbons?

Over the past few years, graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) have gained increasing attention and have become attractive candidates for carbon-based nanoelectronics. GNRs represent a frontier in carbon nanomaterial research, offering unique properties and opportunities for technological innovation in electronics, photonics, and energy storage.1,2

What Are Graphene Nanoribbons?

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Structure of Graphene Nanoribbons

GNRs are one-dimensional strips of graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice. Unlike graphene sheets, which extend indefinitely in two dimensions, nanoribbons are confined to one dimension.

GNRs possess different edge structures. These edges can be armchair, zigzag, or a combination of both, each conferring different electronic behaviors.

Armchair-edged GNRs possess well-defined electronic bandgaps, making them ideal for electronic applications. In contrast, zigzag-edged GNRs showcase magnetic edge states relevant in spintronics.3

Variations in the width and length of GNRs also affect their electronic, mechanical, and optical properties. Narrower ribbons have larger bandgaps, while wider ones behave more like semi-metallic graphene sheets. The length of GNRs influences electronic transport properties, with longer ribbons showing improved charge carrier mobility.

The atomic arrangements of GNRs, including edge configurations and terminations like hydrogen or oxygen functional groups, dictate the electronic band structure, edge states, and chemical reactivity. This highlights the crucial role of atomic structure in determining the properties and applications of GNRs.3

Properties of Graphene Nanoribbons

GNRs display a rich array of electronic and optical properties due to their unique quantum confinement and edge effects. Semiconducting GNRs feature remarkable tunability in their bandgaps, making them ideal for constructing nanoscale transistors and logic devices.

This tunability allows for precise control over the flow of charge carriers, facilitating the development of high-performance electronic circuits.3

GNRs also exhibit exceptional optical characteristics, characterized by strong light-matter interactions and high absorption coefficients. These properties make GNRs highly suitable for various photonic and optoelectronic applications, including photodetectors, solar cells, and light-emitting devices.3

The ability to tailor GNRs' electronic and optical properties at the nanoscale opens up new avenues for the advancement of next-generation electronic and photonic technologies.

Fabrication Methods for Graphene Nanoribbons

GNRs are fabricated using various techniques, including unzipping carbon nanotubes, bottom-up synthesis via chemical vapor deposition, edge-passivation, lithography and etching, template-assisted methods, and chemical cutting from graphene oxide.

Unzipping carbon nanotubes involves chemical or physical that open them into GNRs with controlled dimensions. Bottom-up synthesis through chemical vapor deposition allows precise control over the width, edge structure, and orientation of GNRs. Edge-passivation techniques functionalize GNR edges to control their structure and stability.4

Top-down techniques, such as lithography and etching, enable precise patterning of graphene sheets into GNRs—though they may introduce edge roughness. Template-assisted methods utilize pre-patterned templates for guided GNR growth, while chemical cutting methods selectively oxidize or reduce graphene sheets to produce GNRs.4

Each method offers specific advantages in terms of control, scalability, and compatibility, contributing to the advancement of GNR-based technologies.

Applications in Electronics 

GNRs demonstrate versatile properties that make them highly promising for electronics, photonics, and energy storage applications.

Due to their tunable bandgap properties, GNRs are excellent candidates for nanoscale transistors and logic devices in electronics. This tunability enables precise control over charge carrier transport in integrated circuits and flexible electronics.

In photonics, GNRs show potential in photodetectors and optoelectronic devices, where their strong light-matter interactions and tunable optical properties facilitate efficient light energy conversion.5

In photonics, GNRs show potential in photodetectors and optoelectronic devices, where their strong light-matter interactions and tunable optical properties facilitate efficient light energy conversion.5

These versatile capabilities underscore the significant role of GNRs in advancing technologies across multiple sectors.

Advantages and Challenges

Compared to other carbon nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes and fullerenes, GNRs offer several advantages. Their well-defined edge structures and tunable electronic properties make them ideal for device integration and functionalization.

Additionally, GNRs can be synthesized with atomic precision, ensuring reproducibility and reliability in device fabrication.

Their planar geometry facilitates compatibility with existing semiconductor processing techniques, and their large surface area per unit mass enhances interactions with molecules and substrates, making them advantageous for sensors, catalysis, and energy storage devices.4

Despite these benefits, GNRs confront several challenges and limitations. The scalability of fabrication methods is often hindered by the lack of cost-effective techniques while maintaining control over GNR dimensions and properties.

Ensuring uniformity and quality control across large areas is critical for consistent device functionality, demanding advancements in synthesis techniques and rigorous quality assurance measures.

Integrating GNRs into existing technologies faces hurdles due to material property disparities and compatibility concerns, necessitating seamless integration strategies.6

Environmental impact concerns arise from the harsh chemicals and high-energy processes involved in GNR fabrication, urging the development of eco-friendly production methods and recycling solutions.

Stability issues, regulatory compliance, and safety considerations regarding GNR use also require comprehensive research efforts and clear guidelines to ensure their safe and sustainable application across industries.6

Addressing these challenges through collaborative research and innovation endeavors will be essential to fully harness the potential of GNRs.

Current Research and Future Outlook

Current research efforts focus on addressing the challenges associated with GNR synthesis, characterization, and device integration.

Advances in bottom-up synthesis techniques aim to achieve atomically precise GNRs with tailored properties. Further exploration is also underway into the application of GNRs in flexible electronics, quantum computing, and biomedical devices.

With continued progress, GNRs hold the potential to revolutionize various technologies and drive innovation across multiple industries.6

More from AZoNano: Emerging Electron Microscopy Techniques for Quantum Research

References and Further Readings

1.        Wang, H., et al. (2021). Graphene nanoribbons for quantum electronics. Nat Rev. doi.org/10.1038/s42254-021-00370-x

2.        Dutta, S., Pati, SK. (2010). Novel properties of graphene nanoribbons: a review. J. Mater. Chem. doi.org/10.1039/c0jm00261e

3.        Koen Houtsma, RS., de la Rie, J., Stöhr, M. (2021). Atomically precise graphene nanoribbons: interplay of structural and electronic properties. Chem. Soc. Rev. doi.org/10.1039/D0CS01541E

4.        Celis, A. et al. (2016). Graphene nanoribbons: Fabrication, properties and devices. J. Phys. D. Appl. Phys. doi.org/ 10.1088/0022-3727/49/14/143001

5.        Kumar, S. et al. (2023). Electronic, transport, magnetic, and optical properties of graphene nanoribbons and their optical sensing applications: A comprehensive review. Luminescence. doi.org/10.1002/bio.4334

6.        Tian, C., Miao, W., Zhao, L. Wang, J. Graphene nanoribbons: Current status and challenges as quasi-one-dimensional nanomaterials. Rev. Phys. doi.org/10.1016/j.revip.2023.100082

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Atif Suhail

Written by

Atif Suhail

Atif is a Ph.D. scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India. He is currently working in the area of halide perovskite nanocrystals for optoelectronics devices, photovoltaics, and energy storage applications. Atif's interest is writing scientific research articles in the field of nanotechnology and material science and also reading journal papers, magazines related to perovskite materials and nanotechnology fields. His aim is to provide every reader with an understanding of perovskite nanomaterials for optoelectronics, photovoltaics, and energy storage applications.

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