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Graphene Made from Soybeans

The world’s strongest material has been made more commercially viable with the development of new technology that transforms soybean oil.

Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick. Its thin composition and high conductivity have led to its use in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices. These properties also enable thinner wire connections, providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices. Until now, though, the high cost of graphene production has been the major roadblock in its commercialisation.

Graphene is typically grown in a highly controlled environment containing explosive compressed gases, requiring long hours of operation at high temperatures and extensive vacuum processing. Now, however, CSIRO scientists have developed a novel technology that eliminates the need for such a highly controlled environment.

The “GraphAir” technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler. “This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable and integration-friendly,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han, who was co-author of the report published in Nature Communications. “Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications.”

GraphAir transforms soybean oil – a renewable, natural material – into graphene films in a single step. With heat, soybean oil breaks down into a range of carbon-building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene. “Our GraphAir technology results in good and transformable graphene properties, comparable to graphene made by conventional methods,” said co-author Dr Dong Han Seo of CSIRO.

The team also transformed other types of renewable and even waste oil, such as those left over from barbecues or cooking, into graphene films. “We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” Seo said.

The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine. As graphene also has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties, its uses range from improving battery performance in energy devices to cheaper solar panels.