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2D material makes its mark on the factory floor

Sicona Battery Technologies Ltd has purchased a world-first, scalable, edge-functionalised graphene production method from researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials and ANFF-Materials.

Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms bounded tightly together in a repeating honeycomb pattern of hexagons, is a very promising nanomaterial due to its exceptional properties. It is one of the thinnest, yet strongest, materials on Earth. An extraordinary conductor of both heat and electricity, graphene is optically transparent, chemically resistant and biocompatible.

Graphene, with its unique combination of physical and electronic properties, has the potential be used in a variety of technological applications and devices and radically impact many areas such as energy harvesting and storage, sensing, electronic devices and polymer composite technologies.

While the possible uses of graphene seem limitless, obtaining graphene in a processible form that can be fabricated into devices and composites is a major challenge. The very structure that gives graphene such extraordinary properties makes it difficult to produce and limits its application. The large single sheets of graphene that can be produced from graphite or other carbon sources by physical or chemical methods are poorly soluble in most solvents and are prone to reassemble into insoluble graphite-like particles.

Most current graphene fabrication methods can create a few grams of graphene in the laboratory, but they have proven too expensive to scale up to industry relevant amounts. The technical advances that can be made possible with graphene will only be achieved if there is a manufacturing method that can make graphene in massive amounts – cheaply. The lack of scalable, processable forms of graphene along with ways to fabricate these forms into material structures and devices has hindered its widespread application.

Researchers from the University of Wollongong ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and ANFF-Materials, led by Prof. David Officer and Distinguished Prof. Gordon Wallace, have developed a patented, scalable, graphite-to-graphene process that allows them to chemically modify only the edges of the graphene sheets to give a highly conductive edge-functionalised graphene (EFG).

The resulting extensive edge functionalisation of the EFG sheets not only affords the graphene unprecedented solubility while retaining many of the physicochemical properties of pristine graphene, but it also prevents the reassembling of the EFG into unwanted graphite particles.

What results is a highly processable and remarkably versatile graphene that can be used as a powder or dispersion, paste, or even dough and can readily disperse in water or a wide variety of polar and non-polar organic solvents. Furthermore, the edge functional groups provide enhanced chemical reactivity for composite formation, ion transport and catalysis that can be exploited in specific applications.

As a result of this unique processibility, NSW start-up Sicona Battery Technologies Ltd (Sicona) purchased the EFG patents from the University of Wollongong in 2021 for utilization in their battery technology. As part of the deal, Sicona signed a two-year research agreement with ANFF researchers to scale up the EFG fabrication process for commercial production as well as further explore the potential of EFG as a battery material.

Yes, the brilliant researchers at ACES and ANFF have developed an ingenious EFG production process that is bringing graphene from the laboratory bench to the factory floor. While that achievement is astounding in its own right, these researchers have developed a graphene that isn’t just a graphene – their new type of EFG is so much more.

With a material that holds onto the unique combination of properties found in graphene, their edge functionalisation adds customisable chemical and electrical features that will expand the possible uses of this material. From batteries to coolants, water filtration to carbon capture, biosensors to nanomedical devices, EFG will ensure that graphene will truly take its place as a material impacting and improving many aspects of our everyday lives.

This article was first published by ANFF HQ here.

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