Whether or not the costs associated with the production of graphene remain one of the most significant obstacles to its wider commercial adoption is debatable. Most graphene producers will tell you that they could ramp up production of graphene overnight to the point where, as one producer said two years ago, the price for the material could drop from $550 per square centimeter to between $100 and $200/cm2 in short order. But—and it’s a really big but—that’s if the demand were there.
Nonetheless, there is a regular stream of research aimed at improving production techniques in order to lower costs of graphene in the hope that it will stimulate demand. The most popular production method for getting good quality graphene at a reasonable cost is chemical vapor deposition (CVD), in which gaseous reactants form a film on a metal substrate that’s usually made of copper.
In a new twist on CVD production of graphene, researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland have used the smooth surface of copper foils commonly used as the negative electrodes in lithium-ion batteries. The result: large-area graphene 100 times cheaper than previous methods.
“The commercially-available copper we used in our process retails for around one dollar per square meter, compared to around $115 for a similar amount of the copper currently used in graphene production,” said Ravinder Dahiyam who led the research, in a press release. He explained that the more expensive form of copper required additional processing before it could be used, which tacked on even more cost.
“Our process produces high-quality graphene at low cost,” says Dahiyam. This breakthrough, he adds, takes us, “one step closer to creating affordable new electronic devices with a wide range of applications, from the smart cities of the future to mobile healthcare.”
In research published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers demonstrated that the graphene produced with copper foil substrates could help to realize electronics over large and flexible substrates such as soft plastics and paper.
Dahiyam has just such an application in mind for this graphene.
“Much of my own research is in the field of synthetic skin,” said Dahiyam. “Graphene could help provide an ultraflexible, conductive surface which could provide people with prosthetics capable of providing sensation in a way that is impossible for even the most advanced prosthetics today.”
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.