Laser-Induced Graphene Supercapacitors From Kapton Tape

From the sound of reports in the press, graphene is the miracle material that will cure all the world’s ills. It’ll make batteries better, supercharge solar panels, and revolutionize medicine. While a lot of applications for the carbon monolayer are actually out in the market already, there’s still a long way to go before the stuff is in everything, partly because graphene can be very difficult to make.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be so hard, though, as [Zachary Tong] shows us with his laser-induced graphene supercapacitors. His production method couldn’t be simpler, and chances are good you’ve got everything you need to replicate the method in your shop right now. All it takes is a 405-nm laser, a 3D-printer or CNC router, and a roll of Kapton tape. As [Zach] explains, the laser energy converts the polyimide film used as the base material of Kapton into a sort of graphene foam. This foam doesn’t have all the usual properties of monolayer graphene, but it has interesting properties of its own, like extremely high surface area and moderate conductivity.

To make his supercaps, [Zach] stuck some Kapton tape to glass slides and etched a pattern into with the laser. His pattern has closely spaced interdigitated electrodes, which when covered with a weak sulfuric acid electrolyte shows remarkably high capacitance. He played with different patterns and configurations, including stacking tape up into layers, and came up with some pretty big capacitors. As a side project, he used the same method to produce a remarkable effective Kapton-tape heating element, which could have tons of applications.

Here’s hoping that [Zach]’s quick and easy graphene method inspires further experimentation. To get you started, check out our deep-dive into Kapton and how not every miracle material lives up to its promise.

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Graphene Generates A Little Power

We never know exactly what to make of university press releases, as we see plenty of them with breathless claims of new batteries or supermaterials, but then we don’t see much else. Sometimes, the claims in the press release don’t hold up in the paper, while other times the claims seem to be impractical for use in real life. We aren’t quite sure what to make of a press release from the University of Arkansas claiming they can draw current from a sheet of freestanding graphene purely from its temperature fluctuations.

The press release seems to claim that this is a breakthrough leading to “clean, limitless power.” But if you look at the actual paper, normal room temperature is causing tiny displacements in the graphene sheet as in Brownian motion. A scanning tunneling microscope with two diodes can detect current flowing even once the system reaches thermal equilibrium. Keep in mind, though, that this in the presence of a bias voltage and we are talking about nanometer-scale displacements and 20 pA of current. You can see a simple video from the university showing a block diagram of the setup.

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A Graphene Mouth Screen

We are all intimate with face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Some are reusable, and some become waste after one use. [Dr. Ye Ruquan] and a research team from City University of Hong Kong, CityU, are developing an inexpensive reusable mask with outstanding antibacterial properties, and, get this, the graphene it contains will generate a tiny current when moistened by human breath. There isn’t enough power to charge your phone or anything, but that voltage drops as the masks get dirty, so it can help determine when it needs cleaning. The video after the break shows the voltage test, and it reminds us of those batteries.

All the remarkable qualities of this mask come from laser-induced graphene. The lab is producing LIG by lasering polyimide film with a commercial CO2 infrared model. In a speed test, the process can convert 100cm² in ninety seconds, so the masks can be made more cheaply than an N95 version with that melt-blown layer that is none too good for the earth. Testing the antibacterial properties against activated carbon fiber and blown masks showed approximately 80% of the bacteria is inert after 8 hours compared to the others in the single digits. If you put them in the sun for 10 minutes, blown fabric goes to over 85%, but the graphene is 99.998%, which means that one bacteria in 50K survives. The exact mechanism isn’t known, but [Dr. Ye] thinks it may have something to do with graphene’s sharp edges and hydrophobic quality. A couple of coronavirus species were also affected, and the species that causes COVID-19 will be tested this year.

An overly damp mask is nothing to sneeze at, so keep yourself in check and keep yourself fabulous.

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Graphene Prints More Smoothly Under The Influence Of Alcohol

If you’ve ever sloshed coffee out of your mug and watched the tiny particles scurry to the edges of the puddle, then you’ve witnessed a genuine mystery of fluid mechanics called the coffee ring effect. The same phenomenon happens with spilled wine, and with functional inks like graphene.

Graphene and other 2D crystals print much better under the influence of alcohol.

The coffee ring effect makes it difficult to print graphene and similar materials onto silicon wafers, plastics, and other hard surfaces because of this drying problem. There are already a few commercial options that can be used to combat the coffee ring effect, but they’re all polymers and surfactants that negatively affect the electronic properties of graphene.

Recently, a group of researchers discovered that alcohol is the ideal solution. In the case of spilled graphene, the particles fleeing for the edges are naturally spherical. By adding a mixture of isopropyl and 2-butanol alcohol, they get flattened into a pancake shape, resulting in smoother deformation during the drying process and an easier printing process with better results.

Graphene is quite interesting by nature, and has many uses. It can shift from an insulator to a superconductor with the right temperature changes, and it can desalinate sea water for drinking.

Magic-Angle Twisted Bilayer Graphene – Yes, That’s The Scientific Name

In the world of physics research, graphene has been gaining popularity as one of the most remarkable materials in the last 15 years. While it may appear unassuming in common household goods such as pencil leads, the material boasts a higher strength than steel and a higher flexibility than paper. On top of all that, it is also ultra-light and an excellent conductor of electric current and heat.

Recently, physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that stacking two sheets of graphene and twisting a small angle between them reveals an entire new field of material science – twistronics. In a paper published in Nature, researchers have taken a look into this new material, known as the magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene. By modifying the graphene’s temperature, they were able to cause the material to shift from behaving like an insulator to transforming into a superconductor.

A graphic in the New York Times demonstrates some of the interesting properties that arise from stacking and twisting two sheets. Scientists have long known that graphene is a one-layer-thick honeycombed pattern of carbon atoms, but actually separating a single sheet of graphene has been fairly difficult. A low-tech method pioneered by two physicists at the University of Manchester involves using sticky tape to pull apart graphene layers until a single layer is left.

Small imperfections that arise from slightly misaligned sheets manifests in a pattern that allows electrons to hop between atoms in regions where the lattice line up, but unable to flow in regions that are misaligned. The slower moving electrons are thus more likely to interact with each other, becoming “strongly correlated”.

The technique for measuring the properties of this new twisted graphene is similarly low-tech. After a single layer of graphene is separated by sticky tape, the tape is torn in half to reveal two halves with perfectly aligned lattices. One of the sides is rotated by about 1.3 degrees and pressed onto the other. Sometimes, the layers would snap back into alignment, but other times they would end up at 1.1 degrees and stop rotating.

When the layers were cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, they were observed to become a superconductor, an incredibly discovery for the physicists involved in the experiment. Further studies showed that different permutations of temperature, magnetic field, and electron density were also able to turn the graphene into a superconductor. On top of this, the graphene was also able to exhibit a form of magnetism arising from the movement of electrons rather than the intrinsic properties of the atoms. With so many possibilities still unexplored, it’s certain that twistronics will reveal some remarkable findings pretty soon.

[Thanks Adrian for the tip!]

Graphene Is So Yesterday — Meet Borophene

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.

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Graphene Desalinates Sea Water

Even though the majority of the Earth is covered in water, a surprising number of people around the world don’t have easy access to clean drinking water. The oceans of course are full of salt, and it is difficult to filter that salt out. Researchers at the University of Manchester have found a way to improve a graphene-based filter mechanism that could help convert sea water to potable water.

Pure graphene can do the job, but it is difficult to manufacture in commercial quantities. In addition, the membrane requires the creation of tiny holes, further complicating the production. The new method uses graphene oxide, which is very simple to make and deploy.

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