The Mancunion

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‘Wonder material’ potential mapped out

Potential uses for graphene have been mapped out in a new report

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Potential uses for “wonder material” graphene have been mapped out for the first time in a University of Manchester paper.

The “Graphene Roadmap” analyses various graphene applications currently being researched and estimates when they can be expected to become realised.

The report says that “graphene’s many superior properties justify its nick-name of a ‘miracle material’”, since it combines qualities such as “ultimate” mechanical strength, record high electronic and thermal conductivity and impermeability to water and gases.

Professor Kostya Novoselov, who co-discovered graphene at the University with his colleague Professor Andre Geim in 2004, said: “Because the developments in the last few years were truly explosive, graphene’s prospects continue to rapidly improve.

“Its full power will only be realised in novel applications, which are designed specifically with this material in mind, rather than when it is called to substitute other materials in existing applications.”

One such application currently being researched is “rollable e-paper”, which takes advantage of the flexibility of the material. These electronic colour displays would be able to be rolled up like a scroll and could be available as working prototypes by 2015.

The material is also ideal for use in touch-screen devices since it is “far superior” to the indium tin oxide currently used. It would prove far more long-lasting and would open a way for flexible devices, which the report says “ensures that graphene-based devices will probably dominate flexible applications”.

The first graphene touch-screen devices are estimated to be on the market within three to five years, but ultrafast internet and a replacement for silicon in computer chips are unlikely to be available until 2020.

As well as computing applications, graphene could find medical uses in drug delivery and tissue engineering, in which the material could be used to strengthen regenerated tissue in patients to improve its strength and elasticity.

Graphene oxide has even been used to kill tumours in mice and could potentially find use as an antibiotic or anticancer treatment, but not before 2030.

Efforts to combine the material with solar cells have also “proved to be highly beneficial” and it is hoped that it will be able to improve the efficiency of renewable energy sources.

Prof Novoselov said: “Different applications require different grades of graphene and those which use the lowest grade will be the first to appear, probably as soon as in a few years. Those which require the highest quality may well take decades.

“One thing is certain – scientists and engineers will continue looking into prospects offered by graphene and, along the way, many more ideas for new applications are likely to emerge.”

A roadmap for graphene, published in the journal Nature, was written by Nobel Prize-winner Prof Novoselov and an international team of authors.