Explosive New Process Produces Graphene by the Gram

You say you need some graphene so you can invent the Next Big Thing, but you can’t be bothered with processes that yield a few measly milligrams of the precious stuff. Luckily for you there’s a new method for producing gram quantities of graphene. Perhaps unluckily, it requires building a controlled fuel-air bomb.

Graphene is all the rage today, promising to revolutionize everything from batteries to supercapacitors to semiconductors. A molecularly-2D surface with unique properties, graphene can be made in very small quantities with such tedious methods as pulling flakes of the stuff off graphite lumps with Scotch tape. Slightly less ad hoc methods involve lasers, microwaves, or high temperatures and nasty chemicals. But all of these methods are batch methods that produce vanishingly small amounts of the stuff.

The method [Chris Sorenson] et al of Kansas State University developed, which involves detonating acetylene and oxygen in a sturdy pressure vessel with a spark plug, can produce grams of graphene at a go. And what’s more, as their patent application makes clear, the method is amenable to a continuous production process using essentially an acetylene-fueled internal combustion engine.

While we can’t encourage our readers to build an acetylene bomb in the garage, the process is so simple that it would be easily replicated. We wonder how far down it could scale for safety and still produce graphene. Obviously, be careful if you choose to replicate this experiment. If you don’t like explosions and can source some soybean oil and nickel foil, maybe try this method instead. Then you’ll have something to mix with your Silly Putty.

45 thoughts on “Explosive New Process Produces Graphene by the Gram

  1. High yield? Check. Scalable? Check. Cheap? Check.

    Now, what this can’t do is generate ay sizable sheets of graphene, which is pretty much the only reason to bother making them in the first place. All this is going to do is generate tiny, random chunks of graphene and other small carbon compounds.

    With some luck, with the proper filtering processes, we can separate the larger pieces of it and use it for graphene transistors or the like.

          1. Although, in all seriousness, I would love to experiment with the feasability of using the finer particles of graphene in semiconductor processes. Ion implant, and sputtering come to mind for highly conductive interconnects… But the particles may be destroyed by the processes themselves, although theoretically the graphene might be compatible with implanting into the Si lattice. Hmmm… Gonna have to start bugging my research proff. about this!

          2. -Comment depth reached-

            Carbon and silicon are both in the same period in the periodic table and share similar crystal latices. Silicon carbide is a 1:1 mix of the two and is nearly as hard as a diamond. I don’t know what results when trying to grow graphene on a silicon substrate, but surly someone has tried it.

          3. @Tech Benchle

            You can’t be serious.
            “CO2 is fertilizer” is tired oil money spin
            We don’t live in a triassic ecosystem we don’t raise dinosaurs and horsetails for food.
            This is the climate change equivalent of asking why there are still monkeys.
            Plants may like 2% CO2 but the rest of our vital ecosystems do not. Go read about ocean acidification & is effects on fisheries.

          4. At first: The human race sure is not endangered, so it does not need to be saved. Perhaps some populations are endangered IF there is a climate change.
            Second: It’s even worse: In some greenhouses gas is burnt only to produce CO2 for the plants, without any need or use for the heat.

            I am still not sure, that this soot type graphene is of much use.

        1. My thoughts exactly. Why would you half burn a fuel, and then use it? There may be a weird situation where a higher specific energy is needed or, odd processes that have to use it, but for a usual fuel?

          1. Acetylene is quite easy to store and sufficiently safe to handle if you do not bring it under too much pressure.

            On the other hand: Especially for this process you would not have to store very much of it. You can make it immediately before you want to do the reaction and store the resulting graphene. There are much more dangerous chemicals used in the industry which are really handled only in the above described way. Think of e.g. phosgene, which I am sure you are not allowed to buy a bottle full of it as a normal private person. Buying acetylene for welding is no problem.

    1. Graphene foam which consists on Graphene pieces, nanotubes and bucky balls can carry 3000 times its own weight. Compared to steel, it has 5% of its weight at the same strength. It can easily be machined. Producing bulk of Graphene flakes like this is also something we need.

      1. Suppose you got ordinary steel that yields at 250 MPa. A square millimeter strand of it will carry 250 N without being permanently stretched, which is about 25 kilos, and it weighs only ~8 grams per meter, which is very close to being a ratio of 3000:1 so how is the graphene foam any different from steel? There are specialty steels with 2000-3000 MPa yield strenght so it looks like the graphene foam is actually a bit crap since it can’t beat standard structural steel.

        Indeed, the vagueness of the expression “carry its own weight” is misleading to the point of being nonsense. What’s the actual compressive/tensile strength?

        1. Of course, if it’s as strong as A36 steel, and very cheap to make, it becomes somewhat useful, but as I remember the graphene foam is manufactured by infusing it with nickel and then dissolving the metal away from the lattice, which sounds to me like it would be very expensive to make in quantity and size.

          1. Once we have the nanobots that can make it from soil and CO2, there’s going to be some groovy buildings. You’ll need to book a week in advance for the lift from the 10,000th floor to ground. But you won’t need to very often, everything you need is within 30 floors either way. Oh, and top floor is low earth orbit.

  2. OK, before I get trolled, let me just say that some quick calcs. show that the graphene molecule might not survive the typical energys of ion implant or sputtering, but that doesn’t rule out thin film deposition / spin coating! :)

  3. I thought it funny that the professor says that the only energy required is the spark. Nevermind that he is using an explosive reaction and that acetylene requires a fair amount of energy to manufacture.

  4. Reading this, like most science revolutions it seems so evident in retrospect.
    We’ve known for a while combustion makes micro and nano scale soot. How are they the first to think of this.

    1. If you’ve ever used an acetylene torch you know you get way more than micro and nano scale soot. A friend and I messed around with a torch to see how long we could get carbon strings to be. A very small amount of oxygen and waving the torch to cool the flame made stringers several inches long.

    2. They aren’t. Where do you think acetylene black (carbon black, lamp black, amorphous carbon) comes from? Super-P conductive carbon used in supercapacitors to lithium batteries as a conductive additive to electrodes comes from acetylene.

  5. Detonating (and I mean a real detonation) one small batch and running a continuous process are 2 very different things, the continuous process would have to be what’s basically a SCRAM engine…

    1. Continuous process doesn’t mean continuous detonation. It could be made like in engines, where you detonate, vent container, add gases and detonate again. Continuous here just means that you don’t need to do it once a day with many steps between batches.

  6. The article says this method is better than existing ones because it requires “minimal energy and no dangerous chemicals.”. I’m [pretty sure detonating acetylene/oxygen involves a lot of energy and some amount of danger…

    1. The statement is relative to the current processes for graphene production, which involve lots of electricity plus reactants which have to be disposed of afterwards. Pretty sure idling a car engine for a few seconds would consume more energy than one controller acetylene detonation, and it would probably involve more dangerous chemicals as well.

  7. That guy won’t live long breathing graphene. The “safety” mask he is using is not suitable for the filtration of nanoparticles (they go straight through). It also seems like he needs to brush the reactor to detach graphene. This manipulation should at the very least be done under a fume hood. Graphene flakes easily transform into aerosol and then takes a lot of time to settle.

  8. I wonder, what about a conveyor belt of Scotch tape, and a block of graphite bobbing up and down to touch it? You could maybe use some alternative to the tape, like a plastic belt with adhesive on it, and at the end of the cycle you scrape off the graphene and re-apply adhesive.

    Or you could just buy a load of cheap sellotape from the pound shop and throw it away afterward, graphene’s more valuable than tape is.

    Any reason why this fairly obvious idea won’t work?

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