Graphene – High-performance material for next generation electrotechnical products
Graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms bonded together in a honeycomb lattice – was first isolated by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov eleven years ago and has since received a lot of attention from research and industry for its remarkable properties: The two-dimensional material is very strong, light, almost transparent, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Possible future applications include sensors, transistors, li-ion batteries, transparent electrodes, flexible displays, supercapacitors and others.
But for graphene to be incorporated in innovative products it has to be reliably characterized to make sure the material displays the desired enhancing properties and is suitable for the specific application. However, such a reproducible and accurate characterization remains a challenge. Here, standardization will play a crucial role as it can provide commercial confidence and enable the uptake of this high-performance material into consumer products by defining measurement methods for important graphene characteristics. Furthermore, with all standardization activities for graphene coming together in ISO and IEC, this can pave the way for further activities regarding other two-dimensional materials to realize the full potential of this technology.
The Road to Graphene Commercialization
Alexandra Fabricius, Project Manager at VDE|DKE, interviewed Prof. Ji-Beom Yoo, Sungkyunkwan University, on what makes graphene so interesting and what are the challenges on the way to commercialization. Prof. Yoo is Convenor of Working Group 8, which is responsible for graphene standardization in the IEC Technical Committee 113 “Nanotechnology for Electrotechnical Products and Systems”.
What fascinates you most about graphene and its possible applications?
Graphene is regarded as one of the representative ideal two-dimensional nanomaterials in physics. From another point of view, graphene can be considered a versatile and promising one for its forms in use and the application goals. I, therefore, think that the exotic and unique properties of graphene and its various potential applications make graphene attractive.
In fact, ideal graphene should be as large as wafer-scale or display-scale with a very low density of defects such as grain boundaries, point defects, and wrinkles, but it is still not possible to produce large-area graphene with low defects to satisfy the requirements for industrial scale mass-production. Therefore, I expect that barrier films, catalytic films, super-capacitors, metal compounds, and engineering plastics based on mass-produced graphene flakes may be possible and promising products in the short run.
How will graphene-based technologies impact our lives in the future?
Of course, there is definitely a big impact of graphene on our future lives, but it is not easy to suggest blueprints with clear examples. Nonetheless, the impact will appear slowly in many different aspects. I guess that graphene-based products will come to the market following these three steps sequentially: complementary goods, substitute goods, and new-conceptual goods. Graphene will change our lives slowly but widely by supplementing or replacing some commercial goods, not by making a big impact on our life suddenly. Of course, there will be many troubles during this time considering Gartner’s Hype Cycle, so we may have to find industrial and economic solutions following the strategy to build the industrial ecosystem of graphene.
What are the challenges that the industry is currently facing and how can standardization help to resolve them?
In my opinion, there are three main issues for the industrialization of graphene: the development of “killer applications”, reliability, and the cost of materials and fabrication. Only when all of these three issues are satisfied, the supply chain along crude materials, processed goods and final products of graphene can be connected and graphene can make a safe arrival on the market.
When we consider the macroscopic question of how to build an industrial ecosystem with a new-conceptual material, standardization plays a very important role. When a market-appealing “killer application” is suggested, then standardization will be able to make huge contributions by confirming the reliability of raw materials or processed goods and by finally optimizing the unit cost of the end-products. Even if a “killer application” does not emerge, standardization will play an important role for graphene-based materials or applications. In case of graphene composites, heat dissipation films, and transparent electrodes, there is lots of room for standardization. Standardization of the evaluation methods for properties of graphene-based material and products will support the suppliers and accelerate the progress of the graphene industry.
Korea is one of the leading countries in graphene research. What is the country’s strategy on the way to graphene commercialization?
As graphene still needs further fundamental studies on basic properties, it is not easy to drive private companies to invest in R&D right now. In Korea, our decision is that the commercialization of graphene is nothing but a matter of time and that graphene will soon be useful in the market. The Korean government has made big investments into the teams of university researchers, a national research institute and business companies. And I think that this strategy has been quite successful up to now.
When a nation is built, the government usually invests and constructs huge national infrastructures like highways or bridges, which has big impacts on the country but cannot be done by private companies. My guess is that the Korean government might consider that graphene is something like this. If industrial infrastructures for graphene can be settled down by the government, then a lot of private companies or neighboring markets will follow and attend to the market in a wider range of fields.
Luckily, Korea has global corporations in the electronics, display, automobile and shipbuilding industries. As these huge industries and the related large companies are potential consumers of graphene in the future, the Korean government establishes the “Council of graphene-demanding Companies” with many differently sized companies from different industrial areas and depth. This council can play an important role as a hub for connecting research units, business needs and governmental policies. For further information, the Korean government completed a roadmap for graphene commercialization last year, and currently applies it also to other national policies under development.
Prof. Ji-Beom Yoo
"Graphene is regarded as one