Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

'Miracle material' graphene one step closer to commercial use

By Euan McKirdy, CNN
updated 4:13 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Samsung potentially has a head-start in next-gen mobile technology, thanks to its development of a new way of synthesizing graphene.
Samsung potentially has a head-start in next-gen mobile technology, thanks to its development of a new way of synthesizing graphene.
  • The "miracle material" graphene is super-light, super-conductive, and super-strong
  • Samsung's research unit announces new way to synthesize material, potentially opening the door to commercial production
  • Graphene has the potential to transform a huge range of industries

(CNN) -- No one ever expected the humble pencil to kickstart a revolution. But, by peeling apart pencil graphite into atom-thick layers using regular adhesive tape, two Russian-born scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, earned a Nobel Prize in 2010. With it, they sparked the beginnings of a material that could change the world.

It is no exaggeration to say that graphene, the substance that the two scientists -- along with others -- discovered in 2004, is a miracle material. Now a Korean research lab may have made the leap from theoretical to practical with the development of a new way to synthesize it, potentially on a commercial scale.

The substance, "the perfect atomic lattice," boasts a number of hugely attractive properties, meaning it has the potential to be used in myriad industries, and for a huge range of purposes.

Attractive properties

Does Samsung's S5 deliver?
Smartwatch a smart idea?

As well as being super-strong -- 20 times stronger than diamond, 200 stronger than steel and six times lighter -- it is also remarkably conductive, both electrically and thermally.

Graphene: The strongest material on earth

If that wasn't enough, it is also almost perfectly transparent, impermeable to gas, and its properties are, scientists say, easily alterable.

Graphene is one form -- an allotrope -- of carbon, the basis of all life on earth. More familiar carbon allotropes include diamonds and graphite. What makes it unique is its thinness -- at one atom thick it is as good as two-dimensional. Its flexibility means that it could potentially be used for flexible or wearable devices.

"Graphene has a lot of potential, especially in terms of industrial applications for optical and electronic devices," says Ping Sheng, a Professor of Nanoscience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"The caveat is really in the quality of the graphene that can be produced on a large scale ... If they can overcome that then it will be a big breakthrough."

Another byproduct of its remarkable thinness is its low weight. It could be used to create ultra-light components for, say, the aviation industry, dramatically reducing the weight of aircraft -- and thus significantly improving fuel efficiency -- without compromising strength or integrity.

The substance is so versatile that it has even been touted as the future of condoms. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year awarded a $100,000 grant to fund the development of graphene prophylactics.


Currently, its limitations include the fact that its conductivity can't be turned "off," meaning that as a semiconductor it is useless, although researchers are experimenting with the substance to figure out a way around this problem. One possible fix could be to build artificial breaks in the substance, allowing for circuits to be opened and closed, or to alter its properties with the use of chemicals.

If this deficiency can be overcome, however, graphene could be used in a huge range of devices as a super-fast replacement for silicon transistors, which are already reaching their capacity. Graphene has one hundred times the electron mobility of silicon.

Another limitation comes in the form of its production -- currently it can only be synthesized in small crystals. While this is enough for researchers to test its properties and understand the tantalizing benefits of the material, it is not sufficient to produce it for mass commercial use. But with an announcement made last week, all this could change.

Public- and private-sector funding

Governments and the private sector are actively exploring the potential of the substance, with the EU devoting €1 billion ($1.3 billion) to it between 2013 and 2023, funding research which could potentially transform a range of sectors, including electronics, energy, health and construction.

The Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology last week announced it had developed "a breakthrough synthesis method" of producing graphene, and the hopes are that this will pave the way for the commercialization of the material. The results were published in the journal Science.

Samsung sees graphene as the "perfect material" for next generation device, and the breakthrough could have huge implications for its commercial production.

"This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history," researchers said in a statement released by the company. "We expect this discovery to accelerate the commercialization of graphene, which could unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology."

In partnership with with Sungkyunkwan University, the Institute has pioneered the growing of large-area, single crystal wafer scale graphene. Previously, small graphene particles had been combined to form large-area graphene, but the process diminished both the mechanic and electric effectiveness of the substance.

The material's conductivity would make charging a device take a matter of seconds, and its strength, durability and flexibility would allow Samsung to truly innovate with a whole range of new devices and ways to interact with technology.

It has not been revealed if Samsung plans to make the groundbreaking synthesis process public, a move that would rapidly accelerate the adoption of graphene into daily use.

However, Sheng thinks that it won't be long before the process is widely available. "I don't think they can keep it proprietary very long, even if they want to ... This will start many factories around the world doing the same thing."

READ MORE: Graphene: The nano-sized material with a massive future

READ MORE: Graphene: 'Miracle material' will be in your home sooner than you think

Correction: We erroneously stated that carbon was the most abundant element in the universe. This has since been removed.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit the region's growth, even before new food sanctions begin to bite.
updated 12:34 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for people and businesses to get smarter about preventing them.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
updated 11:24 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Evidence points to pro-Russian separatists as perpetrators of the attack and Vladimir Putin is facing uncomfortable questions, David Clark writes.
updated 10:40 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
The biggest Ebola outbreak in history is taking its toll in Western Africa, hitting some of West Africa's most vulnerable economies.
updated 5:02 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Macau has overtaken Switzerland in the wealth stakes, being named the world's fourth richest territory by the World Bank.
updated 10:47 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Saudi Arabian Bateel brand is best known for its delectable dates but it now has more than a dozen cafes and a new bakery in the works.
updated 7:00 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material. It is so dark the human eye can't discern its shape and form.
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
updated 5:09 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
American burger joints have sprung up all over London, but how to know which ones are best? CNN's Jim Boulden investigates.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
At the last football World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
updated 6:58 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
updated 1:12 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Exotic animals are becoming a profitable business opportunity for Nicaraguan entrepreneurs. CNN's Rafael Romo reports.
updated 11:29 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
updated 6:58 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Tue June 17, 2014
The UK capital promotes its tech stars and shows it can compete with Silicon Valley. Here are five companies that pitch to make it big.