Graphene is officially a part of our future now
Graphene: if you haven’t heard yet, get familiar with it because pretty soon you’ll be seeing the name everywhere. It’s 200 times stronger than the strongest steel, lighter than any other material known, the thinnest compound ever discovered and one of the best conductors of both heat at room temperature and electricity. At this point, you may be asking yourselves what this miracle substance is, and rightfully so. Getting technical, it’s a layer of pure carbon made up of densely packed atoms in a hexagonal shape.
While graphene has been around for ages, traditionally used in small amounts for everyday items like pencils, its incredible characteristics were unearthed in 2004 by two researchers at the University of Manchester. They not only explored the potential of its properties, but found a more efficient, affordable and sustainable way of harnessing it, earning the two men the Nobel Prize in Physics and jump starting what would become one of the largest advances in materials science in decades.
Graphene is poised to make an impact across multiple industries
Soon you may begin to notice it in products on store shelves and in your home. From durable paint to unbreakable phone screens and fast-charging batteries, new ways to take advantage of its capabilities are being discovered more and more frequently. With major players in tech investing heavily in research, and the Graphene 2017 conference in Barcelona noting an increase in production volume and decrease in price , it’s a few short years away from being used throughout devices we engage with daily. Most recently, it was used to develop the world’s first graphene headphones.
When thinking about the overwhelming structural benefits of graphene, those in the boating community can’t help but imagine it being applied to improve both watercraft design and functionality. Some designers have got a head start, with world renowned sailor, Alex Thomson partnering with both Hugo Boss and a graphene company to implement the material in the latest design of the IMOCA 60 racing yacht. It was their hope that the use of graphene would not only make the boat design stronger, lighter and more stiff, but it would drastically improve thermal heat management and reduce friction points.
This year, Thomson succeeded, breaking his own British record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in a monohull. He completed the journey in just over 74 days, even after experiencing detrimental damage only 13 days in, when he collided with an unidentified object. The IMOCA 60 maintains a fine balance between being light and durable, as it has to be ready to withstand tough conditions at sea while maintaining speed. These design elements have also been implemented by researchers and students in Sweden, who challenged themselves to leverage the properties of graphene to improve the speed and efficiency of the least advanced sailboat—dinghies.
A university student in Spain has used graphene as the inspiration for a new plastic he believes can create ‘unsinkable’ ships that are both environmentally friendly and sustainable. The material could reduce the drag of a megaship by 50%, meaning they can save energy and reduce fuel use. While applicable to larger ships, the material is ideal for small boats and racing yachts as well. The student has high hopes for the plastic, which is immune to corrosion, recyclable and is 200% less rough than the best marine painting available.
A production company in Canada has begun working to commercialize graphene, creating ship coatings that both repel water and reduce friction, creating a faster, more fuel-efficient vessel. They also believe in graphene’s potential to help clear oil spills because of the property’s ability to attract oils and repel water.
There are still challenges ahead when it comes to the use of graphene in the design and creation of products. The current method of isolating it, while more efficient than its originator, still takes time as the quantities we’re capable to make are limited. Because it is only an atom thin, researchers are still discovering ways to keep the property intact while discovering its uses—once these hurdles are overcome, scientists are convinced graphene-based products will flood the market.
While a material one million times thinner than a human hair yet stronger than steel may be too good to be true, the unimaginable has become a reality in graphene. Its introduction into designs we utilize most will quickly improve the efficiency and capabilities of what we do every day. From the cellphones we use to the cars we drive—the more researchers and scientists are able to unlock the potentials of this compound, the more limitless we’ll become.
David Schwedel is a U.S. based SMB investor with a demonstrable career in building businesses and creating shareholder value for more than 25 years. He has a depth of experience in complex cross-border financing, project financing, and global capital markets. Mr. Schwedel specializes in Small & Medium- sized Business Investing within the energy technology, petrochemical, and manufacturing industries.