Especially in the increasingly popular world of gear, it seems like new technologies are being developed and introduced constantly. For instance, a couple of years ago, nobody had heard of Dyneema at all. Now, the super tough material is all the rage in the apparel, outdoor, and motorcycle worlds. But it also seems there is another contender hot on the heels of Dyneema. We mean, of course, graphene.
Still a bit of a mystery to the general public, graphene is heralded as one of the strongest and most versatile materials ever known to man. But its versatility and durability leave folks most often with more questions than answers. To make light of this seemingly-new material, expound upon its creation and usage, and to give a bit of history as to its creation, we’ve created the following complete guide to graphene.
The History Of Graphene
How It Came To Be
Graphene has a very interesting story that differs quite a bit from other, similar materials – in that it was theorized long before its actual documented creation. Its first observations, or an observation of what would eventually become graphene, dates back as far as 1859 when an English chemist by the name of Benjamin Collins Brodie detected the flaked structure of thermally-reduced graphite. His work would be expanded upon further between 1916 and 1918, at which point graphite oxide paper – a micrometer-thick film –There are documented cases of the material being created entirely by accident through the use of pencils. would be invented and studied. Interestingly, during this span of time, there are also documented cases of the material being created entirely by accident through the use of everyday pencils.
In 1947, a Canadian theoretical physicist by the name of P. R. Wallace surmised its existence and put together a unified theory of the material, though he could not actually produce it. It wouldn’t even have a name until “graphene” was coined in 1986 by Hanns-Peter Boehm (a German chemist and professor) and his co-workers – who had been working on trying to produce the material as far back as 1962. The material would remain primarily theoretical for 57 years, in spite of the efforts of Wallace, Boehm, and their contemporaries. The problem these scientists were having is that they were finding it difficult to generate graphene in large enough quantities to study and document. Then, in 2004, everything would change.
Two scientists named Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov managed to isolate and identify graphene in the first meaningful way in 2004 – which was, interestingly, two years after a patent had been filed for the material and two years prior to that patent being granted. This unambiguous discovery netted the pair a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 – which should give you an idea of just how remarkable their discovery was. What they did changed graphene from a theoretical “golden ring” for scientists to grasp at and turned it into a tangible material with seemingly limitless potential.
What Is It, Exactly?
As you might know, there are four major states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. And within each of those categories, there are smaller sub-categories. For instance, solids can be both organic and inorganic. Dig deeper, still, and you’ll discover even more subcategories, like metals and non-metals. Graphene falls into the latter-most section, though it gets a little murky from there. As mentioned, graphene is actually derived from graphite – the same brittle dark gray stuff you’ll find in pencilsGraphene is an ultra-thin single layer of graphite made up of a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms. – which itself is an allotrope of carbon (meaning it’s made up of the same atoms, but in a different structure).
Graphene itself is actually structurally different from graphite, as well. Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is that graphene is an ultra-thin single layer of graphite made up of a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms. In fact, it has even been called a 2-dimensional material. Confusing, yes, but what you need to glean from that is that graphene is unique in its structure down to the atom. It is this unique structure that gives the material its incredible and extensive array of features, as well.
One of its unique properties is that, in a single layer, graphene is nearly completely transparent. It is also superbly efficient when it comes to conduction, both in regards to heat and electricity. And it exhibits diamagnetism – a property of materials that cause them to be repelled by magnetic forces. That means graphene can be levitated by neodymium magnets (a feature that can be witnessed in children’s educational toys). There are even claims that graphene is the strongest material ever tested – or at least it was at one point, if not anymore. What is most impressive about the material, however, is probably its versatility in regards to potential applications.
How It Is Used Today
Resulting from its unique structure and comprehensive list of properties, graphene is perhaps one of the most versatile materials in the world today. Its applications stretch across nearly every industry, from computers, to outdoor gear, to automobiles, and more. To give you a better idea of how this amazing material is being used, we’ve pared down its uses to the following common applications:
There’s a pretty good chance that we will see a massive explosion of apparel using graphene in its construction over the next few years – especially in regards to outdoor and performance wear. It’s extremely lightweight and something like 200-times stronger than steel, all while still remaining remarkably flexible – a combination that makes for exceptional outerwear. While the current offerings are still few and far-between, there is one brand that has a jump on the rest of the industry: Vollebak. Their graphene jacket, pictured here, is definitely a sign of things to come.
Like apparel, there’s still a lot of ground to cover in the realm of audio equipment utilizing graphene in their construction, but there are some early adopters – like these headphones before you. The ORA GrapheneQ Hi-Fi Headphones utilize this incredible material in their drivers. In fact, GrapheneQ is a proprietary nano-composite made by the brand that’s specifically optimized for use in speakers. What that means is that these headphones offer up one of the smoothest frequency response curves of any driver on the market – including those offered by big-name competitors – and even reduces power consumption.
As previously mentioned, graphene is a really excellent conductor of energy and heat – making it a great material to be integrated into things like batteries. The folks at Fiskar actually latched onto that pretty early on, having incorporated it into the battery of their Emotion all-electric car model. As you might imagine, the battery is supposed to offer up fast and efficient energy transfer, though there is still a lot to find out about the battery’s longevity – though things are looking pretty promising.
Inov-8 already has a pretty solid reputation in the outdoor and exercise industries for making extremely capable and tough shoes. But they appear to be looking to further solidify that reputation through serious innovation. One such example is their new G-Series graphene trail running shoes. Tested for over 1,000 miles – and surviving every single one – these are some of the most durable shoes we’ve ever come across. They’re also remarkably lightweight, flexible, and they look pretty great, too.
One of the first practical applications of graphene in a consumer product, interestingly enough, was in tennis rackets – especially those made by industry-giant Head. Like the other applications we’ve discussed here, this one makes a lot of sense because it allows the rackets to be even lighter, more durable, and stronger than they would be otherwise. Unsurprisingly, the adoption by the tennis world has led other companies to get on board, like those that make hockey sticks. We imagine we’ll see a lot more of this kind of stuff in the very near future.
Graphene's Impending Future
What Comes Next?
Because, in the grand scheme of things, we’ve only begun to touch the surface of what can be done with graphene, there is still so much yet to be discovered. There is, however, a long list of potential applications that brands, inventors, and scientists are already working on. For instance, graphene has been determined to be a worthwhile substance in the creation of superconductors and other electronics, since it is so conductive.There’s no telling what the future of graphene could be. The prevailing belief is that using it in things like computer chips and even solar panels will increase the technology’s speed and efficiency – potentially tenfold.
That application also extends to energy storage – as seen in Fisker’s car batteries. While Fisker certainly has a jump on the rest of the world, there are still many energy storage applications yet to be explored, ranging from things as big as energy-efficient homes to as small as consumer-focused disposables (the kinds you might use in an EDC flashlight). And while handheld electronics seem like an obvious choice, there’s still more to be done with graphene in that realm that’s not directly related to the transmission of energy and/or information.
Because graphene is transparent, flexible, and incredibly strong, it is also believed that it might be a good contender for use in flexible electronic devices – like the smartphones teased by the likes of Samsung, Lenovo, and more. And these are just the applications people have theorized up to this point. There’s no telling what the future of graphene could be, but we’ve got high hopes that it might just revolutionize and make better the world as we know it.
Everything You Need To Know About Dyneema
Graphene isn’t the only space-age material making waves in the outdoor world. Learn about one of the other major players to have emerged in our complete guide to Dyneema.