Never has the world of science expected a material so eagerly as it has graphene, which is generating a huge amount interest. The potential that has been associated with it is so great that it is starting to be known as “the material of the future”, but what is graphene?
Graphene is a nanomaterial made from pure carbon, arranged in a two-dimensional sheet in the form of a hexagonal network, like an extremely thin honeycomb, just one-atom thick. Up to this point it could appear to be a description of any other material, however, the great expectations surrounding it are due to its extraordinary properties. It is exceptionally hard, 200 times harder than steel, only diamonds can scratch it; it is incredibly flexible, enabling it to bend up to 10%; it is outstandingly light, at just 0.77 mg/m2; and it has the capacity of enabling electrons to move through it as if they had no mass at all. It is a transparent material, with very high thermal and electrical conductivity, and it generates electricity when reached by light. All these virtues make graphene, at least theoretically, the material set to revolutionise the 21st century.
In Asturias the emerging interest for graphene has generated a working environment based around it. To such an extent, that regional government has included it within its Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) as one of its 16 themed priorities. On the other hand, graphene is rousing interest in companies such as ArcelorMittal, Treelogic, Dropsens, IQN and Idesa among others, and bodies such as the INCAR (National Coal Institute), ITMA (Materials Technology Centre), and CINN (Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Research Centre), which are already developing innovative graphene-related projects.
Among the projects that are currently being undertaken in the region, are:
- Graphene obtaining projects, such as the patent developed to obtain it through coal and oil derivatives such as coke.
- Projects for biomedical application, such as the development of supports based on graphene for retina cell growth, or graphene foams for tissue regeneration.
- Projects for industrial application, such as the synthesis of graphene in colloidal dispersion state, with the aim of using this material as a low-cost conductive ink, or the electrophoretic deposition of graphene over carbon steel to obtain protective coverings against corrosion.
- Research projects in fields such as energy storage and generation, the process chemistry and the development of sensors.
- Commercialisation projects of graphene film mass production equipment.
Each day it is getting closer; graphene has matured and wants to leave the labs to become part of our everyday lives. The material of the future is already at our doors, and Asturias is prepared.
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