Graphite has far reaching industrial applications. It is used as a lubricant, to line the furnaces and crucibles used to make steel and in the construction of batteries, engine parts and brake linings. The recent discovery of graphene, the component part of graphite, has world changing potential. Graphene is one atom thick but extremely strong and lightweight, 200 times the strength of steel. Its incredible properties make it a revolutionary resource for industry and technology.
“It’s not just one thing that makes it amazing, it’s the fact that it’s all these things rolled into one.”
Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Lead Researcher in Nanomaterials at the National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester
Comet Resources' Graphene
Comet Resources have produced graphene using a process of electronic exfoliation from graphite mined at the Springdale Project. Graphite is already a widely used material and graphene has the potential to be the key to the next disruptive technology. Ground breaking graphene research across all industries is in process and applications that will revolutionise daily life are being turned into reality.
The recent discovery of graphene, for which the scientists received a Nobel Prize in 2010, has sent shock waves through the scientific community. Graphene is one layer of graphite. It will hold its structure at 1 atom thick, making it the thinnest material known to science.
"Graphene has turned out to be so pervasive that within just a few years it spread from material science and physics into areas as distant as biology and genetics...with so many potential technologies that have already been demonstrated in the case of graphene, the chances of this material are sky high to lead to new important techologies, so among everything I know graphene is my best bet for the next disruptive technology"
Professor Andre Geim, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for the Discovery of Graphene
Properties of Graphene
Graphene is the first 2D substance to be discovered. It has strength 200 times greater than steel and the highest thermal and electrical conductive properties ever found. Graphene can be used for almost all of the same applications as graphite, such as in rechargeable batteries, but with a much higher level of performance. Graphene builds on and exceeds the market reach of graphite. Sheets of graphene can self repair holes when exposed to molecules containing carbon. It is chemically inert and yet it is possible for it to absorb different atoms and molecules to create a change in properties. Just a glimpse at these properties elucidates why graphene is emerging as a critical material for technological progress in an incredibly wide range of fields.
Uses of Graphene
The first stage of development has shown diverse disciplines taking advantage of the strength and flexibility of graphene and using these characteristics to enhance other materials. Some of these applications build on the uses of graphite as this video about the revolutionary potential of graphene batteries shows.
Graphene is being used successfully as an alloy creating significantly stronger and lighter materials that can be used for a range of applications. Alloying with graphene makes nickel 180 times stronger and copper 500 times stronger. Uses that are being developed include graphene enhanced polymers for use in food packaging, with less permeability and greater strength aiding food preservation and the addition of graphene to materials, such as concrete and steel, and to coatings for use in construction. Graphene coatings can significantly decrease corrosion, rust and oxidation, minimise UV radiation damage, enhance scratch resistance and be used as a non stick coating. These have the potential to be new key markets for global demand for graphene.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have shown graphene to have eight to ten times the stopping power of steel and to be twice as effective as Kevlar in stopping bullets. Graphene is also extremely light weight making it an ideal material for use in body armour. Research is being undertaken to create fabrics from woven carbon nanotubes (in essence a tube of graphene) for military grade and high performance combat and sports clothing.
Graphene is being added to the polymers used in 3d printing. It adds mechanical strength and electrical and thermal conductivities massively increasing the potential uses of the produced items.
3D printers have amazing scope. From the creation of microscopic items smaller than the human eye can see to tools with moving parts, power tools and on a larger scales and parts of buildings. They are already been used in remote places, including in space where tools can be printed as required lessening the need to carry extensive supplies.
Flexible Wearable Tech
Many communication companies, including Samsung and Apple who have filed for numerous graphene patents, are investing in research and development in graphene based flexible electronics. Phones and screens are already being made with graphene enhancement creating wearable technology able to be folded or wrapped around a wrist without damage. Forbes predicts the wearable tech market will be worth $34 billion by 2020.
Early roll up lap top designs look to set a new precedent for personal computers. The size, flexibility, strength and electrical conductivity of graphene are progressing research towards a whole new generation of high powered micro technology.
The Future of Graphene
The second stage of development progresses towards applications which were once the preserve of science fiction. They are now moving towards being realistic propositions in advanced stages of research and development. Some examples of the new technologies are as follows.
Biomedical & 3D Bio Printing
Some biomedical technologies are already in the later stages of development. Graphene biosensors are being used to detect low concentrations of significant molecular substances, increasing the sensitivity of current models by over ten times. This groundbreaking research will rapidly accelerate the development of pharmaceutical drugs and the detection of disease.
Graphene foam has been produced that is acting as a scaffold for 3d printers that create functional muscle tissue. Successful implants of printed body parts have been carried out on animals, with cartilage, bone and blood vessels growing from the body to support the bio engineered part.
There are worldwide implications for the future of this scientific endeavour, if more complex body parts can be grown such as the heart or liver it will be revolutionary.
Graphene is also proving to be suitable for use in artificial muscles, for drug delivery, in neural stem cell research and neural prostheses. The later being the construction of graphene based artificial neurons to replace damaged parts of the brain to restore or change functionality. Early tests using graphene have been promising.
Graphene in Space Travel
Materials used in space travel are being improved by the addition of graphene however there are much more radical ideas such as that of the space elevator that could become reality if the potential of graphene is realised.
The concept of a fixed position orbital satellite connected to earth by a ‘rope’ up which robot climbers would ascend sounds farfetched. But the idea could be the future of space travel as it negates the debilitating need for massive and expensive payloads to reach space. The properties of graphene may enable this fiction to become fact, research is on going. If it does then space travel and exploration become a far more viable option.
All of these uses have the potential to propel the global demand for graphite further and as more research and development is undertaken new technologies and applications are emerging.
Mines QC www.minesqc.com
Properties of Graphite
Graphite is an opaque allotrope of inorganic carbon with a metallic grey to black sheen. It is a naturally occurring rock formation. Whilst it can be synthesized most industrial application are performed more successfully and significantly more economically by natural graphite. Graphite has three grades: flake, crystalline and amorphous. The most valuable resource is large to jumbo flake graphite.
The properties of graphite include high thermal and electrical conductivity, a high melting point, insolubility in water and lubricity.
Uses of Graphite
Graphite has a wide range of uses. The main consumers are the steel industry and the automotive and aerospace industries. The biggest potential growth area for the global demand of graphite is in the production of graphene. Comet Resources are able to produce graphene from the graphite mined at the Springdale Project.
At present the steel industry is the single largest consumer for graphite. It is used to line furnaces and crucibles as it is highly resistant to thermal shock and can withstand the temperatures used to melt steel of up to 1540 degrees centigrade.
Automotive & Aerospace
The automotive industry has a myriad of uses for graphite, the most common being in brake linings and clutches, in engine parts and for mechanical seals. The aerospace industry is also an emerging graphite user with the high thermal stability and light weight of graphite making it ideal for the construction of rockets and re-entry vehicles as well as for the manufacturer of jet engines and fuselages for commercial air travel.
Other applications of graphite include use as a dry lubricant, a fire retardant, in medications as an absorbent for poison and as an alloy to construct aerospace, road and marine vehicles as well as industrial and sporting equipment.
Graphite Market Growth Areas
The current use of graphite that is currently demonstrating the most potential for growth is within the rechargeable battery industry. Lithium ion batteries use more graphite than lithium. Demand for rechargeable and long life batteries is soaring as the use of electroic products from laptops to smart phones and cameras increases exponentially in addition to new demands for batteries for electric cars and household energy systems.
Solar Batteries & Electric Vehicles
Large household lithium ion batteries designed to store energy captured from renewable sources, solar in particular, are set to revolutionize the energy industry and be a large driver of growth in the graphite market. In addition the number of electric cars and scooters is rapidly increasing. Significant year on year growth in purchases in this sector is expected to rise even more sharply after 2022, when prices for electric cars are predicted to match those for gasoline powered cars. The cost of refueling an electric car is approximately 1/4 of the cost of filling an equivalent car with petrol. Many countries including the UK, China & India are planning bans on fossil fuel powered cars in order to improve air quality and protect the environment.
The Tesla Gigafactory (the $5 billion building which will have the largest footprint in the world) has been designed solely for the production of lithium ion batteries, particularly for cars and houses. The first part of the factory opened in 2016. It is anticipated that it will substantially increase global demand for graphite when full operations begin. Tesla aim to make more lithium ion batteries in 2020 than were made in the whole world in 2013.
The copper industry is a major contributor to the global economy. Copper is more than just a mined metal; it provides jobs and promotes of a higher standard of living. One tonne of copper brings functionality in 40 cars, powers 60,000 mobile phones, enables operations in 400 computers, and distributes electricity to 30 homes.
Copper has an important role to play in addressing issues critical to society. These include contributions to food supply, infrastructure, CO2 reduction and sustainable development. The copper industry works to engage employees, communities and governments in addressing the challenges encountered in providing essential materials for society. International Copper Association members and stakeholders along the copper value chain understand their responsibility to the environment and the communities in which they operate.