It wasn’t long ago that graphene seemed to take the science and engineering communities by storm. You can make bits of it with a pencil and some sticky tape, yet it had all sorts of wonderful properties. The key, of course, is that it is a single layer of atoms. Now scientists have done the same trick with boron to form borophene, and it looks to be even more exciting than graphene. You can read a pretty dense paper about the material if you want to dig deeper.
The new material is stronger and more flexible than graphene. It appears too that it could boost the performance of lithium-ion batteries. Computer simulations showed that borophene was possible back in 1990, but it wasn’t until 2015 that anyone was able to make any. The material is a good conductor of electricity and heat. It also exhibits superconductivity. Another exciting prospect is that it can be created in different arrangements, each with a unique set of properties. So you may be able to build borophene to be, for example, especially conductive or particularly strong.
Another surprising application could be hydrogen storage. Studies show that the material could store over 15% of its own weight in hydrogen, which is more than normal materials can handle. It also can act as a catalyst to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen ions.
So is it all good news? No. Creating the material currently requires you to perform chemical vapor deposition of boron on a silver substrate. The arrangement of the silver atoms cause the boron atoms to assume a flat hexagonal pattern with a certain pattern of holes or vacancies that determine the material’s properties.
The other problem is that the material is highly reactive and subject to oxidation. So not only is the material hard to create, it is hard to handle, store, and use, as well. There are indications that the material may allow for some exotic sensors, too, something that graphene is also good at. Many hackers have come up with clever ways to make graphene, so now the search is on for a good way to make borophene, as well.