In a new study, published in Science May 31, 2013, Columbia Engineering researchers demonstrate that graphene, even if stitched together from many small crystalline grains, is almost as strong as graphene in its perfect crystalline form. This work resolves a contradiction between theoretical simulations, which predicted that grain boundaries can be strong, and earlier experiments, which indicated that they were much weaker than the perfect lattice. Scientists can grow sheets of graphene as large as a television screen by using chemical vapor deposition (CVD), in which single layers of graphene are grown on copper substrates in a high-temperature furnace. One of the first applications of graphene may be as a conducting layer in flexible displays. The graphene has a strength of 95 gigapascals. It has 90% of the strength of perfect molecular graphene and is stronger than molecular carbon nanotubes.
This is a huge step towards an age of super materials with constructs like space elevators. This still needs to be industrialized with production of thousands to millions of tons per year.
The Columbia Engineering team wanted to discover what was making CVD graphene so weak. In studying the processing techniques used to create their samples for testing, they found that the chemical most commonly used to remove the copper substrate also causes damage to the graphene, severely degrading its strength.
Their experiments demonstrated that CVD graphene with large grains is exactly as strong as exfoliated graphene, showing that its crystal lattice is just as perfect. And, more surprisingly, their experiments also showed that CVD graphene with small grains, even when tested right at a grain boundary, is about 90% as strong as the ideal crystal.
Large Graphene sheets with over 95 Gigapascals of strength were produced. Perfect graphene has 105 gigapascals of strength
Pristine graphene is the strongest material ever measured. However, large-area graphene films produced by means of chemical vapor deposition (CVD) are polycrystalline and thus contain grain boundaries that can potentially weaken the material. We combined structural characterization by means of transmission electron microscopy with nanoindentation in order to study the mechanical properties of CVD-graphene films with different grain sizes. We show that the elastic stiffness of CVD-graphene is identical to that of pristine graphene if postprocessing steps avoid damage or rippling. Its strength is only slightly reduced despite the existence of grain boundaries. Indentation tests directly on grain boundaries confirm that they are almost as strong as pristine. Graphene films consisting entirely of well-stitched grain boundaries can retain ultrahigh strength, which is critical for a large variety of applications, such as flexible electronics and strengthening components.
“This is an exciting result for the future of graphene, because it provides experimental evidence that the exceptional strength it possesses at the atomic scale can persist all the way up to samples inches or more in size,” says Hone. “This strength will be invaluable as scientists continue to develop new flexible electronics and ultrastrong composite materials.”
Strong, large-area graphene can be used for a wide variety of applications such as flexible electronics and strengthening components—potentially, a television screen that rolls up like a poster or ultrastrong composites that could replace carbon fiber. Or, the researchers speculate, a science fiction idea of a space elevator that could connect an orbiting satellite to Earth by a long cord that might consist of sheets of CVD graphene, since graphene (and its cousin material, carbon nanotubes) is the only material with the high strength-to-weight ratio required for this kind of hypothetical application.
The team is also excited about studying 2D materials like graphene. “Very little is known about the effects of grain boundaries in 2D materials,” Kysar adds. “Our work shows that grain boundaries in 2D materials can be much more sensitive to processing than in 3D materials. This is due to all the atoms in graphene being surface atoms, so surface damage that would normally not degrade the strength of 3D materials can completely destroy the strength of 2D materials. However with appropriate processing that avoids surface damage, grain boundaries in 2D materials, especially graphene, can be nearly as strong as the perfect, defect-free structure.”
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Specific strength of other materials are listed at wikipedia. Strength of materials in this chart is in megapascal. So the new large scale graphene has a strength of 95000 megapascal. This is about 25 times stronger than Kevlar.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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