Graphene: The Single Layer Wonder

Graphene is the wonder material that will bring Malaysia into Industry 4.0

By: Satoko Omata

 

A single layer of carbon. It is as easy as sticking an adhesive tape over a pencil drawing, then removing the tape.

In theory, it sounds simple. In practice, it’s anything but.

Known as graphene, this thin layer of carbon is about 200 times stronger than the strongest steel.

About a millionth of the width of a single strand of hair, it is also a very efficient heat and electricity conductor. Being nearly transparent, it can transmit light, ideal for optoelectronic applications such as LCD touchscreens.

With such effective properties, graphene will be one of the core materials that will bring about the fourth industrial revolution.

Since the filing of the first graphene production patent in 2002, the industry has moved beyond just using a sticky tape. Today, technology has evolved to bring out multiple ways to extract graphene, although it remains costly for mass manufacturing.

Currently, researchers all over the world are exploring at the potential practical usage of graphene in various industries. This includes energy, biomedical, electronics, sensors, membranes and composites, and coatings. The growing investments and research into the adoption of graphene has influence and bled into Malaysia as well, contributing to the development of products in this country.

Our abundance in palm oil production contributes towards the manufacturing and application of graphene. Methane, the by-product of palm oil production, is ideal feedstock for graphene extraction. This in turn, can be used in various industrial manufacturing including rubber, electrical & electronics, oil & gas and automotive –  of which Malaysia is a major exporter of all mentioned above.

For example, the conductive properties of graphene could be used for conductive inks, replacing metallic wiring for cheaper, more flexible and more durable electronics. This could contribute towards machinery, sensors and even communication devices that are lighter while still maintaining its cost and energy efficiency.

Dr. Rezal Khairi Ahmad (middle) speaking to reporters at Graphene Malaysia 2017.

In the agricultural sector, development is made for graphene to be used to strengthen river banks, improve soil conditions and stability, and even as a membrane for filtering water for consumption.

By 2020, Malaysia is looking at an estimated GNI impact of RM20 billion by graphene, with an estimated 9,000 jobs reliant on this industry. Currently, the National Graphene Action Plan 2020 (NGAP2020) has graduated 12 companies with a combined potential revenue of RM300 million, with over 1,000 jobs created.

The NGAP2020 is NanoMalaysia’s initiative for connecting product development to manufacturing, aimed to create a starting point for the graphene industry in the country. Since its introduction in 2014, the NGAP2020 has encouraged over 24 projects with input from both local and foreign partners.

The research and development into graphene is increasing exponentially with no signs of slowing down. For NanoMalaysia, setting a vision for 2020 might be ambitious. However, if the rate of development is of any indication, we could soon be living in a world where graphene is prevalent in major aspects of life.

If so, arguably, the 2020 deadline is more of a sign of conviction.

 

This story was first featured in the Business Today magazine (August 2017 issue)

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