Graphene in mass market manufacturing
2014 could see the first mass-market products containing graphene - a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon arranged in a hexagonal 'chickenwire' pattern. It is as stiff as diamond and hundreds of times stronger than steel -- yet at the same time is extremely flexible, even stretchable, and electricity zips through it like greased lightning.
In the decade since graphene was first isolated, a smattering of graphene-based products have made it to market. That could change as production costs fall and manufacturing quality improves this year. One potential application would see graphene replace the transparent, touch-sensitive indium tin oxide electrodes that cover smartphones (ITO is rather brittle, and indium is becoming more scarce).
Meanwhile, Europe's Graphene Flagship project, which began late last year, will ramp up. This decade-long effort, backed by EUR1-billion in funding, hopes to take graphene from the laboratory bench to the factory floor. Researchers hope to develop graphene applications including various sensors, battery electrodes, strong composite materials, flexible electronics, water filtration devices, faster computer chips and more. And the UK is a key player: the National Graphene Institute at Manchester, and the Cambridge Graphene Centre, will be building new labs this year.