May 15 - Irish scientists have broken new ground in the effort to speed up production of the 'wonder material' graphene - by mixing it with soap and water in a common kitchen blender. They believe the method could be adapted on an industrial scale to allow the mass production of a material whose strength and conductivity are likely to transform common products. Jim Drury reports.
Irish scientists have discovered a new use for household blenders.......to make graphene. The so-called 'wonder material' has unique properties that could radically improve the performance of electronics and plastics, IF it can be produced on an industrial scale. And that's where Professor Jonathan Coleman, of Trinity College's AMBER science centre, comes in. His experiments with a simple blender demonstrate that graphene can be produced by mixing graphite, water, and soap. He says the shearing force of fast rotating blender blades can separate individual graphene layers, each the thickness of a single carbon atom. UPSOT: BLENDER SOUNDBITE (English) JONATHAN COLEMAN, PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR AT AMBER MATERIALS SCIENCE CENTRE, SAYING: "You blend it up and you get this sort of black liquid and you notice that there are some suds there, that's due to the surfactant, and this is where the graphene is. At this early stage there's also graphite in there, so we have to go through a processing stage where we separate the graphite from the graphene." UK chemical manufacturing firm Thomas Swan approached Coleman two years ago, looking for help in scaling up graphene production. Since graphene was first isolated a decade ago, it's proved extremely difficult to produce, says Thomas Swan's graphene project leader Keith Paton. SOUNDBITE (English) KEITH PATON, PROJECT LEADER FOR GRAPHENE AT THOMAS SWAN LTD, SAYING: "One of the things that's been holding this back is a supply of large scale, large quantities of graphene, good quality graphene, at reasonably low cost and this research that we've been carrying out here has opened up a route to obtain these." A hundred times stronger than steel and capable of conducting electricity, graphene liquid or powder could be added to inkjet printers to custom print batteries and electrodes. It could also be used to strengthen plastic bottles, while racquets used by tennis stars like Wimbledon champion Andy Murray already contain the substance. The next step is applying the principles of the blender experiment to much larger machinery. Coleman does not recommend trying it at home. SOUNDBITE (English) JONATHAN COLEMAN, PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR AT AMBER MATERIALS SCIENCE CENTRE, SAYING: "It can be done in a kitchen blender but you would really have to have the right recipe, the right amounts of graphite, the right amount of water, the right amount of surfactant, and afterwards you really wouldn't want to use the blender again because you can see it's covered with graphene residue and I don't think you want that in your soup or your smoothies." Thomas Swan says he hopes a custom-built plant will produce a kilo of graphene per day by the end of the year... They're convinced they have the perfect blend for success..... UPSOT: BLENDER