A new discovery
Graphene was first isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004. Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov were experimenting on a Friday night (as you do) and found they could create very thin flakes of graphite using sticky tape. When separating these fragments further, they found they could produce flakes that were one atom thick.
Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their ground-breaking experiments in 2010, and since the two had first identified the material since the 60s it had been a long time coming.
Despite its thinness Graphene is extremely strong, estimated to be 200 times stronger than steel
Is silicon outdated?
Semiconductors are inextricably linked to Moore’s Law, which is the principle that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every year. But that observation Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made in 1965 is now losing speed.
Silicon chips will very soon reach their limit and will be unable to hold any additional transistors, which means that future innovation will require a replacement material. Graphene, with its single-atom thickness, is a contender.
In 2014 hardware company IBM devoted $3 billion to researching replacements for silicon as it believed the material would become obsolete. The company said as chips and transistors get smaller, as small as the current average of 7 nanometers (nm), the integrity of silicon is more at risk.
IBM revealed its new 2nm tech last year, which can hold 50 billion transistors on a single silicon chip, so the material is not going obsolete just yet.
Graphene is nowhere close to being a replacement for silicon, it is still in the development stage and the cost of implementing it into supply chain would be extensive. A lot more research and adjustment is required, and it would have to be introduced step by step to avoid prices skyrocketing and supply chains breaking down.
Graphene is not the only contender to be the replacement for silicon either. Carbon nanotubes are fighting for prominence, and other 2D materials like molybdenum disulfide and tungsten disulfide are also vying for the position.
Another disadvantage of Graphene is that there is no bandgap, which means the semiconductor can’t be switched off. The possibly jagged edges of the material could also pierce the cell membranes which may disrupt functions.
Thanks to its 2D properties Graphene is also being studied for its potential uses in other areas. In relation to semiconductors there has been research from Korea on the uses of graphene as a filtration device for semiconductor wastewater. The oxide-based nanofiltration membranes could remove ammonium from the wastewater created by semiconductor production so it can then be recycled. As a wider application of this Graphene could be used as a filtration device for water or to remove gas from a gas-liquid mixture.
Graphene is also being researched for its uses in the biomedical field, which include being a platform for drug delivery, bone tissue engineering, and ultrasensitive biosensors to detect nucleic acids. Graphene has other sensor-based uses, because the sensors can be made in micrometre-size they could be made to detect events on a molecular level, and could be of use in agriculture and smart farming.
There is a possibility Graphene could be combined with paint to weather-proof or rust-proof vehicles and houses, and to coat sports equipment. It also could have potential within the energy field for extending the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries.
When can we expect change?
Consultation company McKinsey estimated there would be three phases to the implementation of Graphene, none of which have begun just yet. Phase one would be to use Graphene as an ‘enhancer’ of existing technology, and will simply improve other devices by extending the lifespan or improving the conduction. This phase is estimated to last for ten years, after which phase two will begin. In this step graphene will become a replacement for silicon and will be the next step in the improvement of semiconductors and electronics. After 25 years we can expect the next step in graphene applications, things we can only dream of now.
In the meantime, people will still be using silicon-based semiconductors for quite a while. If you’re on the lookout for chips, or any other day-to-day or obsolete electronic components, contact Cyclops today at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.