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Cooler, faster way to grow electronic-grade graphene

Posted: 20 Mar 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Caltech? graphene? solar cell? LED? flexible electronics?

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists have come up with a novel method to produce graphene, a material made up of an atom-thick layer of carbon. Conducted only in room temperature, the process could help open the door for commercially feasible graphene-based solar cells and LEDs, large-panel displays and flexible electronics, the researchers stated.

"With this new technique, we can grow large sheets of electronic-grade graphene in much less time and at much lower temperatures," noted Caltech staff scientist David Boyd, who developed the method.

Boyd is the first author of the study, published in the March 18 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Nai-Chang Yeh and David Boyd

Nai-Chang Yeh and David Boyd (Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications)

Graphene could revolutionise a variety of engineering and scientific fields due to its unique properties, which include a tensile strength 200 times stronger than steel and an electrical mobility that is two to three orders of magnitude better than silicon. The electrical mobility of a material is a measure of how easily electrons can travel across its surface.

However, achieving these properties on an industrially relevant scale has proven to be complicated. Existing techniques require temperatures that are much too hot, 1,000C, for incorporating graphene fabrication with current electronic manufacturing. Additionally, high-temperature growth of graphene tends to induce large, uncontrollably distributed strain or deformation in the material, which severely compromises its intrinsic properties.

"Previously, people were only able to grow a few square millimetres of high-mobility graphene at a time, and it required very high temperatures, long periods of time and many steps," said Caltech physics professor Nai-Chang Yeh, the Fletcher Jones Foundation co-director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute and the corresponding author of the study. "Our new method can consistently produce high-mobility and nearly strain-free graphene in a single step in just a few minutes without high temperature. We have created sample sizes of a few square centimetres, and since we think that our method is scalable, we believe that we can grow sheets that are up to several square inches or larger, paving the way to realistic large-scale applications."

The manufacturing process might not have been discovered at all if not for a fortunate turn of events. In 2012, Boyd, then working in the lab of the late David Goodwin, at that time a Caltech professor of mechanical engineering and applied physics, was trying to reproduce a graphene-manufacturing process he had read about in a scientific journal. In this process, heated copper is used to catalyse graphene growth. "I was playing around with it on my lunch hour," stated Boyd, who now works with Yeh's research group. "But the recipe wasn't working. It seemed like a very simple process. I even had better equipment than what was used in the original experiment, so it should have been easier for me."

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