Is Graphene the new Unobtainium?
If your research application needed a material with a tensile strength of X to the 100th power, and a melting point of Y-thousand degrees – attributes not found in any existing metal or mineral compound – engineers put down as a place-holder the name Unobtainium, as a goad to continue the quest for discovery.
Now comes a material with the weight of a cat’s whisker per square meter, combined with 200 times the strength of steel… A material so conductive that it may enable solar cells to provide 10,000 times more energy than a comparable amount of fossil fuel… A material so ductile it can be shaped into innumerable applications without compromising its strength and conductivity… A material that the journal Science calls the “thinnest known material in the universe and the strongest ever measured:”
It’s fair to ask: Is graphene the new Unobtainium?
That’s the question that flows directly from announcements like the one last week by Lomiko Metals, which has advanced the graphite-to-graphene conversion process in a test done at Graphene Laboratories, where graphite samples were converted to graphene oxide and then on to rGO — reduced graphene oxide – the closest science can come at this point to pristine graphene.
Get our daily investorintel update
“One of the barriers to widespread use of graphene is the cost of producing it in useable forms,” stated Lomiko’s CEO, A. Paul Gill. “By confirming that graphene may be easily created from natural flake graphite, Graphene Labs and Lomiko hope to produce the material on a larger scale and at a reduced price.” The company will go on to use the graphene in prototype super-capacitors and in composite materials – two of the most promising commercial uses of the substance.
If it seems like graphene breakthroughs are being reported every day, it may be because graphene patents are being filed at a rate of more than 1 per hour, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year – more than 9,200 in 2012, a quintupling since 2008.
The breadth of applications is also astonishing. Witness Grafoid Inc.’s announcement – also this month — that it had formed a joint venture with ProScan RX Pharma to pioneer a “graphene-based nanotechnology platform” to allow the “targeting and thermal eradication of solid cancer tumors.” According to Grafoid CEO Gary Economo, the “therapy we aim to bring to market leaves us well positioned with the potential to re-define the treatment for tumorous cancers.” The method offers life-changing advantages over current forms of cancer treatment, ranging from surgery to radiation and chemotherapy.
But experience shows that first-phase materials research is often driven by defense sector applications, and then spun-out into the commercial sphere.
We know that graphene is not among the 72 materials on the study-list of the publicly-released 2013 National Defense Stockpile Requirements Report. But is it possible graphene is one of the four materials studied in the report that remain classified?
The clues are there: In DARPA’s multifaceted five-year effort in graphene research, including programs like graphene-based night vision thermal imagers, with superior infrared imaging capacity, achieved at 1/10th the cost.
We know that the U.S Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) is looking for limiters that can protect radar front-end electronics in missile defense systems from a disabling EMP attack – and we know that some major defense contractors have noted graphene’s promise as an “ultracapacitor:” A device combining the energy storage capacity of a battery (but slow to cycle up) with the rapid energy discharge time of a capacitor (hampered by very limited energy storage).
In short, graphene may be the Unobtainium that can protect our missile defense systems from attack.
And that’s just one possible use we can infer from open-source research for the material Raytheon Corp. calls the “near perfect conductor.”
9 short years ago, Geim and Novoslov isolated the first single-atom graphene flake. Three years ago, they received the Nobel for their discovery. And now, with advances like Grafoid and Graphene Laboratories’ leading the way – graphene may be poised to move off the lab bench and into new applications that will transform computing, medical and materials science, and the defense technologies that revolutionize warfare.
InvestorIntel is a trusted source of reliable information at the forefront of emerging markets that brings investment opportunities to discerning investors.