A team of researchers announces that they have found a way to turn everyday cooking oil into graphene, 200 times stronger than steel – a miracle technique that could significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing the coveted nanomaterial.
Graphene is a single sheet of carbon atoms with incredible properties – it’s 200 times stronger than steel, harder than diamond, and incredibly flexible. Under certain conditions, graphene can even be transformed into a superconductor that carries electricity with zero resistance. Huge potential for electronics, biotechnology or medicine. However, these applications have so far been limited by the fact that graphene generally must be designed in a glowing vacuum using purified ingredients, which makes it expensive to produce.
Until we can find a cost-effective way to mass-produce the world’s most capable material, it is of necessity confined to the lab. But maybe not for long. A team of Australian researchers claims in a study published in the journal Nature Communications to have indeed found a way to create graphene under normal atmospheric conditions, using soy cooking oil.
Dubbed ‘Graphair’, the technique involves heating soybean oil in a tube furnace to 800 degrees C. for about 26 minutes, causing it to break down into the building blocks of carbon that are essential for the synthesis of graphene. The temperature is then maintained for three minutes and the carbon is then rapidly cooled on a nickel sheet, revealing a thin rectangle of synthetic graphene one nanometer thick (about 80,000 times thinner than a human hair).
Not only is this technique cheaper and easier than other methods, it is also much faster and safer, not requiring vacuum treatment at high temperatures for hours and eliminating the need for gas potentially explosive tablets such as methane and hydrogen. The technique also allows the recycling of cooking oils that would otherwise have been discarded. The next step will be to find a way to produce on a much larger scale. Until now, the largest graphene film obtained using this technique was no larger than a credit card. The team is now looking for business partners to pursue this goal.