Two projects led by professors in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have recently received funding from the National Science Foundation.
Lei Li, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, is leading a project that will investigate the water wettability of floating graphene. Research over the past decade by Li and others has shown that water has the ability to “see through” atomic-thick layers of graphene, contributing to the “wetting transparency” effect.
“This finding provides a unique opportunity for designing multi-functional devices, since it means that the wettability of an atomic-thick film can be tuned by selecting an appropriate supporting substrate,” said Li. “Because the substrate is liquid, one can control the wettability in real-time, a capability that would be very useful for water harvesting of moisture from the air and in droplet microfluidics devices.”
The current project will use both experimental and computational methods to understand the mechanisms of wetting transparency of graphene on liquid substrates and demonstrate the real-time control of surface wettability. Li and his co-PIs Kenneth Jordan, Richard King Mellon Professor and Distinguished Professor of Computational Chemistry at Pitt and co-director of the Center for Simulation and Modeling; and Haitao Liu, professor of chemistry at Pitt, received $480,000 for the project titled, “Water wettability of floating graphene: Mechanism and Application.”
The second project will develop technology to help enable the widespread adoption of renewable energy, like solar and wind power. James McKone, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo to develop a new generation of high-performance materials for liquid-phase energy storage systems like redox flow batteries, one of McKone’s areas of expertise. The project, “Collaborative Research: Designing Soluble Inorganic Nanomaterials for Flowable Energy Storage,” received $598,000 from the National Science Foundation, with $275,398 designated for Pitt.
McKone’s team will investigate the molecular properties of soluble, earth-abundant nanomaterials for use in liquid-phase battery systems. These batteries are designed to store massive amounts of electricity from renewable energy sources and provide steady power to the grid.
“Unlike the batteries we normally think of in phones and laptop computers, this technology uses liquid components that are low-cost, safe and long-lasting,” said McKone. “With continued development, this will make it possible to store all of the new wind and solar power that is coming available on the electric grid without adding a significant additional cost.”
McKone is collaborating with Dr. Ellen Matson, Wilmot Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Rochester, and Dr. Timothy Cook, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo.
Advanced Material Development has been selected to join the
WSRF framework programme led by QinetiQ and involving over 100 leading industrial and academic suppliers, all focused on developing exploitable technologies for the UK Armed Forces.
John Lee, CEO of AMD, said “This is a highly significant development
for AMD in acknowledging both the important role materials science has to play and more specifically, the core need for nanomaterials development, in new defence-sector technologies. AMD is delighted to be welcomed into such esteemed company and we look
forward to making a fundamental contribution to this vital programme, combining our R&D expertise with highly experienced companies in this sector.”
By varying the energy and dose of tightly-focused electron beams, researchers have demonstrated the ability to both etch away and deposit high-resolution nanoscale patterns on two-dimensional layers of graphene oxide. The 3D additive/subtractive “sculpting” can be done without changing the chemistry of the electron beam deposition chamber, providing the foundation for building a new generation of nanoscale structures.
Based on focused electron beam-induced processing (FEBID) techniques, the work could allow production of 2D/3D complex nanostructures and functional nanodevices useful in quantum communications, sensing, and other applications. For oxygen-containing materials such as graphene oxide, etching can be done without introducing outside materials, using oxygen from the substrate.
“By timing and tuning the energy of the electron beam, we can activate interaction of the beam with oxygen in the graphene oxide to do etching, or interaction with hydrocarbons on the surface to create carbon deposition,” said Andrei Fedorov, professor and Rae S. and Frank H. Neely Chair in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “With atomic-scale control, we can produce complicated patterns using direct write-remove processes. Quantum systems require precise control on an atomic scale, and this could enable a host of potential applications.”
The technique was described in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces ("High-Resolution Three-Dimensional Sculpting of Two-Dimensional Graphene Oxide by E-Beam Direct Write"). The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences. Co-authors included researchers from Pusan National University in South Korea.
Creation of nanoscale structures is traditionally done using a multistep process of photoresist coating and patterning by photo- or electron beam lithography, followed by bulk dry/wet etching or deposition. Use of this process limits the range of functionalities and structural topologies that can be achieved, increases the complexity and cost, and risks contamination from the multiple chemical steps, creating barriers to fabrication of new types of devices from sensitive 2D materials.
FEBIP enables a material chemistry/site-specific, high-resolution multimode atomic scale processing and provides unprecedented opportunities for “direct-write,” single-step surface patterning of 2D nanomaterials with an in-situ imaging capability. It allows for realizing a rapid multiscale/multimode “top-down and bottom-up” approach, ranging from an atomic scale manipulation to a large-area surface modification on nano- and microscales.
“By tuning the time and the energy of the electrons, you can either remove material or add material,” Fedorov said. “We did not expect that upon electron exposure of graphene oxide that we would start etching patterns.”
With graphene oxide, the electron beam introduces atomic scale perturbations into the 2D-arranged carbon atoms and uses embedded oxygen as an etchant to remove carbon atoms in precise patterns without introduction of a material into the reaction chamber. Fedorov said any oxygen-containing material might produce the same effect. “It’s like the graphene oxide carries its own etchant,” he said. “All we need to activate it is to ‘seed’ the reaction with electrons of appropriate energy.”
For adding carbon, keeping the electron beam focused on the same spot for a longer time generates an excess of lower-energy electrons by interactions of the beam with the substrate to decompose the hydrocarbon molecules onto the surface of the graphene oxide. In that case, the electrons interact with the hydrocarbons rather than the graphene and oxygen atoms, leaving behind liberated carbon atoms as a 3D deposit.
“Depending on how many electrons you bring to it, you can grow structures of different heights away from the etched grooves or from the two-dimensional plane,” he said. “You can think of it almost like holographic writing with excited electrons, substrate and adsorbed molecules combined at the right time and the right place.”
The process should be suitable for depositing materials such as metals and semiconductors, though precursors would need to be added to the chamber for their creation. The 3D structures, just nanometers high, could serve as spacers between layers of graphene or as active sensing elements or other devices on the layers.
“If you want to use graphene or graphene oxide for quantum mechanical devices, you should be able to position layers of material with a separation on the scale of individual carbon atoms,” Fedorov said. “The process could also be used with other materials.”
Using the technique, high-energy electron beams can produce feature sizes just a few nanometers wide. Trenches etched in surfaces could be filled with metals by introducing metal atoms contained in precursors.
Beyond simple patterns, the process could also be used to grow complex structures. “In principle, you could grow a structure like a nanoscale Eiffel Tower with all the intricate details,” Fedorov said. “It would take a long time, but this is the level of control that is possible with electron beam writing.”
Though systems have been built to use multiple electron beams in parallel, Fedorov doesn’t see them being used in high-volume applications. More likely, he said, is laboratory use to fabricate unique structures useful for research purposes.
“We are demonstrating structures that would otherwise be impossible to produce,” he said. “We want to enable the exploitation of new capabilities in areas such as quantum devices. This technique could be an imagination enabler for interesting new physics coming our way with graphene and other interesting materials.”
Physicists at the University of Basel have developed a minuscule instrument able to detect extremely faint magnetic fields. At the heart of the superconducting quantum interference device are two atomically thin layers of graphene, which the researchers combined with boron nitride. Instruments like this one have applications in areas such as medicine, besides being used to research new materials.
To measure very small magnetic fields, researchers often use superconducting quantum interference devices, or SQUIDs. In medicine, their uses include monitoring brain or heart activity, for example, while in the earth sciences researchers use SQUIDs to characterize the composition of rocks or detect groundwater flows. The devices also have a broad range of uses in other applied fields and basic research.
The team led by Professor Christian Schönenberger of the University of Basel's Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute has now succeeded in creating one of the smallest SQUIDs ever built. The researchers described their achievement in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
A superconducting ring with weak links
A typical SQUID consists of a superconducting ring interrupted at two points by an extremely thin film with normal conducting or insulating properties. These points, known as weak links, must be so thin that the electron pairs responsible for superconductivity are able to tunnel through them. Researchers recently also began using nanomaterials such as nanotubes, nanowires or graphene to fashion the weak links connecting the two superconductors.
As a result of their configuration, SQUIDs have a critical current threshold above which the resistance-free superconductor becomes a conductor with ordinary resistance. This critical threshold is determined by the magnetic flux passing through the ring. By measuring this critical current precisely, the researchers can draw conclusions about the strength of the magnetic field.
SQUIDs with six layers
"Our novel SQUID consists of a complex, six-layer stack of individual two-dimensional materials," explains lead author David Indolese. Inside it are two graphene monolayers separated by a very thin layer of insulating boron nitride. "If two superconducting contacts are connected to this sandwich, it behaves like a SQUID - meaning it can be used to detect extremely weak magnetic fields."
In this setup, the graphene layers are the weak links, although in contrast to a regular SQUID they are not positioned next to each other, but one on top of the other, aligned horizontally. "As a result, our SQUID has a very small surface area, limited only by the constraints of nanofabrication technology," explains Dr. Paritosh Karnatak from Schönenberger's team.
The tiny device for measuring magnetic fields is only around 10 nanometers high - roughly a thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. The instrument can trigger supercurrents that flow in minuscule spaces. Moreover, its sensitivity can be adjusted by changing the distance between the graphene layers. With the help of electrical fields, the researchers are also able to increase the signal strength, further enhancing the measurement accuracy.
Analyzing topological insulators
The Basel research team's primary goal in developing the novel SQUIDs was to analyze the edge currents of topological insulators. Topological insulators are currently a focus of countless research groups all over the world. On the inside, they behave like insulators, while on the outside - or along the edges - they conduct current almost losslessly, making them possible candidates for a broad range of applications in the field of electronics.
"With the new SQUID, we can determine whether these lossless supercurrents are due to a material's topological properties, and thereby tell them apart from non-topological materials. This is very important for the study of topological insulators," remarked Schönenberger of the project. In future, SQUIDs could also be used as low-noise amplifiers for high-frequency electrical signals, or for instance to detect local brainwaves (magnetoencephalography), as their compact design means a large number of the devices can be connected in series.
For those unfamiliar with the terms “applied materials” and “optoelectronic engineering,” a few keywords such as “semiconductors” and “sensors” should jolt one’s memory. The importance of this cutting-edge field can be illustrated by examining recent Nobel Prize winners and their research.
First, three Japanese researchers were jointly awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources," for they held the key to the elusive blue LED — Gallium nitride (GaN).
Another pair of laureates, both of Russian heritage, were awarded in 2010 "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene." Graphene is a newly discovered form of carbon that is prized by manufacturers of touchscreens, light panels, and solar cells for its superior transparency and heat-conducting properties.
Chen Hsiang, chair of National Chi Nan University’s Department of Applied Materials and Optoelectronic Engineering, began his academic journey in the field of electrical engineering before delving into photonics and nanomaterials. His alma mater, National Taiwan University’s fiercely competitive Department of Electrical Engineering, has been the top choice for Taiwanese students taking the university entrance exam for the past decades.
After rigorous training through NTU's undergraduate and graduate programs from 1991 to 1997, Chen left Taipei to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of California, Irvine from 2005 to 2008. It was here, in a dimly lighted campus laboratory, that he first caught a glimpse of the imperfections within the GaN transistors of that era. He proceeded to dedicate his thesis to this discovery, and graduated with both a Ph. D. degree and a book offer from a German publisher.
“At that time, researching GaN transistors was a new field,” the distinguished professor explains. “These high-power transistors are used in cellular towers, satellites, and even in outer space, but [the design then] lacked stability and contained structural flaws that could be rectified by optoelectronics.”
The materials used in his doctoral studies were procured from an American arms manufacturer that crafted F51 fighter jets and is now known as Northrop Grumman, a global aerospace and defense technology company. Unable to secure a source for such transistors upon returning to Taiwan, Chen turned his attention to the more readily available zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles.
Described by the professor as “structurally identical” to the hexagonal columnar basalt found on Taiwan's Penghu Islands, crystalized ZnO particles are actually a million times larger in terms of mass. This stretch of surface is extremely advantageous in making light, portable nano-sensors that can be used to reliably measure carbon monoxide levels or ultraviolent rays.
Chen compares the process — that of introducing nanomaterials to zinc oxide to create completely new ZoN nanostructures — to “changing the toppings on a subway sandwich” to refine the properties of the end product differently each time.
Respected among his peers as a well-trained engineer who has never ceased his research efforts, Chen maintains a steady publishing average of 8 articles per year in international science master journals listed on the Science Citation Index (SCI).
This track record is matched by only a handful of NCNU faculty members, however Chen humbly redirects the compliment instead to acknowledge the collective hard work of the optoelectronics department’s instructors and student researchers.
He interjects: “There is a student who is working on those fresh perovskite [solar] cells, heard it was similar to Intel’s research.”
Chen took up the post of departmental chair last year upon completing a sabbatical and visiting at the research lab of Yale's acclaimed Professor of Technological Innovation Jung Han (韓仲). Apart from livening up his department’s recruitment and teaching process, he is also leading the way for more case studies, hands-on experiments, and industry knowledge such as the latest breakthroughs in technology and applications.
One of his recent lectures was on optical tweezers invented by the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics team that grab atoms, molecules, and DNA with laser beam fingers; the lasers push small particles towards the center of the beam and hold them there.
The professor dutifully recites the tremendous employment opportunities that come with a bachelor's degree in the field: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), Micron Technology, and Epistar. Other graduates opt for further studies at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon and Duke.
Two recent graduates are now serving as research engineers at TSMC, he says, drawing attention to the importance of deep familiarity with both the compositional and modular properties of semiconductors. “Having a background in manufacturing and sensor-testing semiconductors, as well as knowledge of the physics and materials used, will open up a lot of doors in both the electronics industry and the optoelectronics field.”
Academic-industry cooperation on a community level is another passion of Chen's, in which he seeks to deepen exchanges and partnerships with local LED firms and solar cell makers such as those based at Nantou's science park. “Local businesses are in need of highly skilled labor, graduates are in need of employment; we are here to create networks,” he explains.
In recent years, NCNU has been an avid participant in several programs supported by the Ministry of Education's Center for University Social Responsibility. These include cross-fertilizing Taiwan's agricultural powerhouse with optoelectronics, and now Nantou’s water bamboo and passion fruits are grown with the aid of LED lights.
Moreover, NCNU researchers are currently identifying the best wavelength, intensity, and duration for specific cultivars based on their innate growth cycle and biological characteristics.
How do a new generation of Taiwanese scholars prepare themselves for this field? To this, Chen replies with the 3 keystones of optoelectronics — light, display, and energy source.
NCNU's curriculum prides itself on providing in-depth understanding of the characteristics of the materials used, as well as the parameters for reading photonic and gaseous levels. This field is a gateway to electrical engineering, chemistry, physics, optoelectronics, and many more fascinating areas of study, so why not take the chance to learn more about semiconductors to broaden one's scientific knowledge and employability?
Professor Chen's rich scientific sensibilities have further cemented the credibility of NCNU's Department of Applied Materials and Optoelectronic Engineering. The reward for developing engaging research projects and experiment-based training? Exceeding recruitment expectations during the time of the coronavirus — full classrooms that the devoted Chen sees as a divine deliverance of grace.
XG Sciences, Inc. (“XGS” or the “Company”), a leading manufacturer of high-quality graphene nano-materials, today announced that it has appointed Mr. Robert M. Blinstrub as Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Andrew J. (AJ) Boechler as Chief Commercial Officer. Dr. Philip Rose, CEO of XG Sciences, Inc. for the past six years, has resigned to pursue other interests, but will continue to serve as an advisor to the company to ensure a smooth and successful transition.
XG Sciences, Inc.’s Chairman, Arnold A. Allemang, said “I am delighted to welcome Bob as our new CEO and AJ as our new CCO. Bob is a proven leader and an experienced CEO who has excelled at leading early-stage companies through periods of transformative growth. We believe AJ’s experience building and scaling global organizations and commercial teams will enable XGS to capitalize on a tremendous market opportunity. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Rose for his tireless service over the past six years.”
“I am honored and energized to assume leadership of XG Sciences,” said Blinstrub. “We have a very talented team at XGS, and I am excited to continue to innovate our products in new and diverse ways to better serve our customers. Both AJ and I feel XGS is extraordinarily well-positioned to address a significant market opportunity in coming years, and we look forward to unlocking growth opportunities and creating value for our shareholders.”
Blinstrub has been an investor in the Company since 2018 and has served as a Member of the Board of Directors since March 2019. Blinstrub was founder, President and CEO of Applied Global Manufacturing, Inc. (“AGM”), a company he started in 2000. Headquartered in Troy, Michigan, AGM was a designer, innovator, and producer of engineered solutions for automobiles, with 9 production facilities around the world, including Austria, China, Costa Rica and Mexico. Under Blinstrub’s 17 years of leadership, AGM doubled its revenue every 18 months on average and had total revenue of approximately $500 million and 2,000 employees when it was acquired by Flex, Ltd. (NASDAQ: FLEX) in April 2017. During his tenure, AGM accumulated supplier awards for world class quality, product design, engineering, innovation, and service. Prior to AGM, Blinstrub led multiple startups and operational turnarounds.
Boechler joins XGS following a successful 30-year career with General Electric Company, where he provided executive leadership in a variety of industries and markets including Plastics, Healthcare, Automotive, Oil and Gas, Power Generation, Consumer Electronics, Automation and Industrial Inspection Technologies. While at GE, Boechler built global organizations and brands, developing solutions in both start-up and established business environments.
A new way to check the quality of nanomaterials like graphene has emerged from a team at the University of Sussex.
Graphene and nanomaterials have been touted as wonder materials, and they are proving invaluable in all sorts of applications, such as in the automotive and aerospace industries, where heavy metals are replaced with lighter but equally strong composite materials. Nanomaterial quality therefore matters a great deal, but standardisation and quality checking have eluded the industry.
The Sussex team have developed a technique that gives detailed information about the size and thickness of graphene particles. It uses a non-destructive, laser-based method for looking at the particles as a whole, and lets them quickly build a detailed picture of the distribution of particles in a given material.
Their paper 'Raman Metrics for Molybdenum Disulfide and Graphene Enable Statistical Mapping of Nanosheet Populations' is published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
Dr Matt Large, who led the discovery in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, said:
“Standards for measurement are a really critical underpinning of modern economies. It really comes down to one simple question; how do you know you got what you paid for?
“At the moment the graphene industry is a bit of a wild frontier; it’s very difficult to compare different products because there is no agreed way of measuring them. That’s where studies like ours come in.
“It’s really an important issue for any business looking to reap the benefits of graphene (or any other nanomaterial, for that matter) in their products. Often using the wrong material can either have no benefit at all, or even make product performance worse.
“A particular example would be composite materials like graphene-reinforced plastics; if a poor-quality graphene material is used it can cause parts to fail instead of providing the improved strength expected. This can be a big issue for industries such as automotive and aerospace, where there is enormous effort behind replacing heavier metal parts with lighter composite materials (like carbon fibre) that are just as strong. If graphene and other nanomaterials are to play a role in reducing weight and cost then agreed standards are really important.”
Aline Amorim Graf is a co-author of the paper in the team at the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. She said:
“Some manufacturers say they produce graphene but actually – no doubt inadvertently - produce a form of graphite. Some will charge up to £500 per gram.
“The trouble is there’s no standardisation. What we’ve done is to create a new way to measure the quality of nanomaterials like graphene. We use a Raman spectrometer to do this, and have created an algorithm to automate the process. In this way, we can determine the quality, size and thickness of the sample.
"Clearly the quality of graphene really matters. If you’re using graphene to strengthen structures, to use in health monitors, to use in supermarket tags, you want to know you’re getting the real stuff. But actually purchasers of graphene have no clue as to the quality of what they’re buying online. If you’re using graphene to strengthen cement, and it turns out it’s actually not graphene or is low quality graphene, then that’s going to matter.”
Professor Alan Dalton, co-Director of the Sussex Programme for Quantum Research and co-author of the paper, said:
“This is truly an important area of research for our team. We believe that our new metric will be of great help to industry, researchers and standards bodies alike who are key-stakeholders in the development of 2D materials towards commercialisation."
The Graphene Council has long called for better standardisation. Terrance Barkan of the Graphene Council has written: “The lack of an agreed global standard for graphene and closely related materials creates a vacuum and lack of trust in the marketplace for industrial scale adoption of graphene materials.”
The Sussex team continue their research and are open to checking the quality of graphene on a consultative basis.
Haydale is a world leader in plasma treatment and nanomaterial functionalisation through its HDPlas process. This process sees sophisticated plasma reactors deliver tuneable levels of functional groups, chemically bonded to substrate surfaces. Using various types of plasma that confer different surface chemistries, including cleaning plasmas for targeted removal of chemical contaminants, 3- dimensional treatment is directed only at exposed surfaces, thus maintaining structural integrity.
Haydale uses its patented plasma process to develop bespoke solutions with varying levels of plasma treatment and functionalisation. Properties can be adapted to develop hydrophilic, hydrophobic, carboxylic, amine and oxidative modifications to a range of materials. These modifications improve the treated material’s incorporation into advanced materials. Currently, Haydale has plasma-treated over 250 different types of material that it has characterised and fingerprinted, enabling specific properties to be targeted in future projects.
Historically, Haydale has been able to provide a functionalised process through the dry plasma HDPlas process with maximum fuctionalisation levels of 21%. The existing graphene oxide market offers a material with traditionally 25 atomic percent oxygen atoms. Graphene oxide is produced by wet chemistry processes; this has issues with scalability and the length of time to produce a batch of material taking days. Typical methods involve environmentally hazardous by-products and unstable intermediates (potentially explosive). Graphene oxide is used for batteries and capacitors as well as in flexible electronics, solar cells, chemical sensors and bio-sensing and as an antibacterial defence.
Having a stable plasma process treating extremely conductive material is challenging, especially in a commercial and scalable process. Having already achieved 21% functionalisation through its scalable process, Haydale has a sound base on which it can build to increase the surface chemistry levels by having a more effective and efficient plasma and chemistry. Having a more powerful plasma means improving the engineering solutions. This includes, but is not limited to, the electrode, gas control systems, power delivery and generation, reaction barrel and chamber and materials of construction. By refining the design and implementing novel components that are bespoke for the application, the plasma can be further enhanced.
Haydale’s primary focus in enhancing the functionalisation levels are improved chemistries, including the feed of the process chemistry and potential mixed chemistry and staged functionalisation treatments. The system operates at a vacuum; the process chemistry is bled into the reaction chamber and, once the treatment parameters are established, the plasma can be struck.
In developing the 28% treatment levels, the above system, chemistries and processing conditions all need to be balanced to ensure a stable, non-arcing and repeatable process, as well as achieving the required output. As the effectiveness of the process increases, so does the aggressiveness of the plasma. If this is not balanced with the above parameters, arcing can occur; this means a sustained spike in electrical current that could lead to a thermal plasma which could be damaging to both the reactor and the material. The main outcome of this is a less effective treatment. Current is controlled by a combination of electrical interlocks and a well-balanced process.
Nonetheless, Haydale has been able to balance all of the above and achieve a repeatable and accurate treatment of levels that are comparable of the wet chemical methods of graphene oxide production. Verified in a letter of support by the Cardiff University, 28% Atomic Percent oxygen has been measured, targeting the existing graphene oxide market. No solvents or harsh chemical treatments are used in this dry and environmentally friendly process and a scalable proven process is already used in industry. This new system can also apply to Haydale’s other properties (hydrophilic, hydrophobic, carboxylic, amine etc.) providing the same environmentally friendly, scalable process now with even more surface chemistry.
A Griffith University researcher has won an $860,000 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship grant to develop an environmentally friendly method to produce thin-layered 2D nanomaterials used in everything from sensors to energy storage devices.
Two-dimensional (2D) nanomaterial refers to ultra-thin sheets of a material such as graphite or titanium carbide that are as little as one atom thick (~ one nanometer or one millionth of a millimeter).
“Peeling conventional materials into atomically thin nano-layers reveals extraordinary electrical and thermal conductive properties, many times higher than parent materials,” said Dr Yulin Zhong from the Centre for Clean Environment and Energy and the School of Environment and Science.
“When incorporated into energy storage, energy conversion and flexible electronic devices, 2D nanomaterials can substantially boost the device performances. The use of 2D nanomaterials in rechargeable batteries, for example, greatly increases the charging speed and capacity.”
The typical ways to break materials down into 2D nanomaterials rely on harsh chemical processes involving toxic strong acids and oxidants. This requires the costly cleanup and disposal or recycling of chemical waste products after the reactions.
“The electrochemical method we are developing replaces the harmful acids and oxidants used to produce 2D nanomaterials, with electrical power, minimising chemical wastes,” Dr Zhong said.
“The salt solutions we employed in this process can be reused many times over with very little product cleaning required, making the electrochemical method a greener and more cost-effective way to produce 2D nanomaterials.
“The advent of these advanced production and manufacturing technologies will accelerate the technological development in areas such as energy storage and health monitoring.
“Thus development of this electrochemical process is win-win, using a more environmentally sustainable methodology to impart superior properties to traditional materials, and will directly support the growth of Australian high-tech companies.”
First Graphene today announced a research collaboration with world-leading experts at the University of Warwick to enhance the understanding of graphene in a range of polymer systems such as plastic and rubber.
The PhD Project will be conducted under the Warwick Collaborative Post Graduate Research Scholarship Scheme, in conjunction with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) that has established a world- recognised model for successful collaboration between academia and the private and public sectors. WMG has strong links with world-leading industrial partners such as Jaguar Land Rover, who announced in late 2019 they were relocating their advanced research group to the facility.
First Graphene will collaborate with the University’s Professor Tony McNally, who have established capability in incorporating nanomaterials, including carbon nanotubes and graphene into bulk polymer systems.
Using graphene as an additive in thermoplastic materials gives an improvement in properties such as mechanical, electrical, thermal, fire retardancy, chemical resistance and gas barrier. This provides the potential to move lower cost polymers such as polyolefins and polyamides up the “plastics performance pyramid,” creating new value for plastic manufacturers. Potential uses for these enhanced engineering plastics are light-weighting in automotive and aerospace as well as the delivery of a new generation of high-performing fire-retardant plastics in mass transport, construction, mining and oil & gas.
The project will combine WMG’s capability and First Graphene’s operational experience of graphene production and processing to investigate and optimise the impact of surface chemistry, the use of additives and optimising the mixing process technology to deliver further improvements in the properties of graphene-enhanced polymers. Existing First Graphene customers will benefit from this research, which will also enable a new range of PureGRAPH® enhanced polymer and rubber systems.
First Graphene Managing Director Craig McGuckin says this new collaboration is significant and necessary. “It reaffirms our position as the leading graphene producer and innovator. We recognise Warwick University and Warwick Manufacturing Group’s world leading expertise and our need to keep investing in collaborative projects to keep delivering improvements,” Mr McGuckin said.
“This research, which will comprise a PhD project over a three-and-a-half year period, will unlock graphene’s potential to improve strength, durability and the lifespan of a range of polymer systems.” Professor McNally, who is Professor in Nanocomposites and Director of the International Institute for Nanocomposites Manufacturing (IINM) at WMG, says he is delighted to be collaborating with First Graphene on this fundamental research.
“I look forward to working with their research team on this project which will drive real benefits in the industrial use of thermoplastic materials in a range of real-world applications,” Professor McNally said.
Mr McGuckin says using graphene as an additive in thermoplastic materials improves mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties particularly in the areas of fire retardancy, chemical resistance and gas barriers. “This provides the potential to move lower cost polymers such as polyolefins and polyamides up the so-called `plastics performance pyramid’ creating new value for plastic manufacturers.”
The Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) has a world-recognised model for successful collaboration between academia and the private and public sectors.