Excerpts from a conversation with M. V. Sivakumaran, Senior VP and Business Head of Electro Minerals Division of Carborundum Universal Limited, in which he talks about how to address the challenges that arise in the adoption of graphene in industrial applications and the potential environmental benefits of using graphene in industrial applications. Sivakumaran holds M.Tech degree in Ceramic Technology from Anna University, Chennai and has over 26 years of experience.
What makes graphene such a desirable material for use in industry?
Graphene, a two-dimensional one-atom-thick carbon allotrope, has emerged as an exotic nanomaterial of the 21st century and received wide attention due to its exceptional electrical, thermal, optical, and mechanical properties. Graphene is an extraordinarily light material. It is often said that a single sheet of graphene, which is sufficient to cover a whole football field can weigh under 1 gram. Graphene is 10000 times thinner than human hair and 1000 times lighter than paper. It takes billion stress cycles before it breaks, making it one of the most fatigue-resistant materials. Graphene and its derivatives are a very favorite topic of research in nearly every field of science and engineering. Recent progress has shown that Graphene-based materials can have a profound impact on composites, specialty coatings, electronic and optoelectronic devices, chemical sensors, nanocomposites, and energy storage.
What are the challenges facing the widespread adoption of graphene in industrial applications, and how can they be overcome?
Even though Graphene was first isolated 18 years back, commercialization of the same for bulk application is relatively low. There are mainly three challenges faced by the industry for the large-scale commercialization of graphene. First, graphene still is an expensive material, necessitating corresponding property enhancement justifying the cost. The second factor is to identify the right type of graphene for the right application and ensure consistent availability. The third factor is the lack of application knowledge required for processing nonmaterial to get maximum benefit. For example, one needs to know the proper graphene dispersion technique to get maximum benefit in a composite application. However, more fundamental research and application development to establish the usage of graphene can possibly be the way forward to overcome the challenges.
How can graphene be used in the development of lightweight and durable materials for the aerospace and automotive industries?
For aerospace & automotive applications, graphene combines high strength, flexibility, lightweight, and high thermal/electrical conductivity making it a most ideal material. Apart from the lightweight composites the application areas in the aerospace industry like lightning protection, de-icing skin, sensors, and fast charging cells, graphene is found to be potential material. There are myriad opportunities for graphene in automobile including lightweight composites, which makes the vehicle lighter, stronger, and fuel efficient. Graphene-incorporated elastomers, vehicle interior and exterior coatings, additives used in EV cells, sensors, etc are some other applications where graphene could be of potential use.
What are the advantages of using graphene-based composites in manufacturing and construction applications?
Graphene-based composites are gaining widespread acceptability in many applications and a lot of commercialization possibilities in the area of graphene-incorporated elastomers, concrete, and thermosetting/thermoplastic polymers. These composites have multiple applications in the area of weight reduction, recycling and reuse of polymers, and carbon footprint reduction. Specifically, there is a lot of traction in using graphene from a sustainability point of view. A small addition of graphene can enhance the strength of concrete considerably, which has the potential of considerable reduction in cement usage.
What are the potential applications of graphene in the energy sector, and how can it contribute to renewable energy production and storage?
Graphene’s very high electrical conductivity coupled with high charge carrier mobility enables it to consider for many energy storage applications. Graphene can significantly improve the properties of Li-ion batteries in terms of quick charging and holding more powder. Graphene can make batteries lighter and more flexible. Graphene is making fast inroads into capacitors and supercapacitor applications by replacing activated carbon. Graphene is found to be a promising material for electrodes used in proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Graphene could play a significant role in anti-reflection coating material used in solar cells. CUMI is actively working with leading research institutions like IIT Chennai towards the development of graphene usage in energy applications.
Worldwide demand for battery energy storage will significantly increase in the coming years and graphene-related materials could play a vital role in various energy storage system development.
What are the potential environmental benefits of using graphene in industrial applications?
The basic structure of graphene is carbon. Any bio-waster decomposes to carbon on thermal treatment. Hence considering the chemistry of graphene, it is an environmentally benign product. Graphene, with its superior properties, can significantly enhance the performance of different materials resulting in less material usage and a corresponding reduction in carbon footprint. For example, a small addition of graphene can significantly improve the strength of concrete, which can lead to less use of cement whose production is well known for greenhouse gas emission. The addition of graphene helps in the recycling of various polymers without degradation of their properties. Graphene-based membranes have the ability to remove most of the contaminants from the water making it clean and safe to use.