Graphene Reimagined: Development and Manufacturing Explained

Scientists at Rice University have been hard at work developing and advancing graphene manufacturing to make the material more practical. This week, scientists manufactured conductive graphene foam that is reinforced by carbon nanotubes. It may sound like science fiction but the team at Rice University walked away with impressive results.

Chemist James Tour from the Rice lab developed this extraordinary material. The material has impressive properties such as being able to support 3,000 times its own weight and being able to bounce back to its original shape. Furthermore, the material can be made in just about any shape and size the researchers said. The demonstration used a screw-shaped piece of the highly conductive foam, but this is only the beginning.

Atom-thin graphene is among the strongest materials known and is highly conductive. However, graphene on its own wasn’t strong enough for the Rice researchers. The scientists found a way to address this issue by using multiwalled carbon nanotubes which are commonly used as conductive reinforcements in metals, polymers and carbon matrix composites to add support to the graphene structure.

“We developed graphene foam, but it wasn’t tough enough for the kind of applications we had in mind, so using carbon nanotubes to reinforce it was a natural next step,” Tour said

The manufacturing process may sound complicated but it’s relatively simple when it comes to the production of graphene three-dimensional structures. They were “created from a powdered nickel catalyst, surfactant-wrapped multiwall nanotubes and sugar as a carbon source. The materials were mixed and the water evaporated; the resulting pellets were pressed into a steel die and then heated in a chemical vapor deposition furnace, which turned the available carbon into graphene. After further processing to remove remnants of nickel, the result was an all-carbon foam in the shape of the die, in this case a screw.” the press release read . Tour stated that the method would be easy to scale up which will be incredibly important to make this material available to manufacturers looking to benefit from graphene’s unique properties.

Research was supported by The Air Force Office of Scientific Research and its Multidisciplinary University Research initiative. This offers some information on how exactly the ‘rebar graphene’ will be used. Aerospace manufacturing continues to call for light, high-strength materials and Rice University’s graphene would help meet those demands.

Manufacturing Talk Radio will be keeping a close eye on these developments so be sure to check back soon.