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Mechanical Engineering Professor Revolutionizes Materials Science with Coal-based ‘Wonder Material’

Mechanical Engineering Professor Revolutionizes Materials Science with Coal-based ‘Wonder Material’

Graphene, hailed as the “wonder material,” has the potential to revolutionize various industries due to its unique properties, including its strength, lightness, and conductivity.

In recent years, researchers have been racing to find ways to produce and apply graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon. Professor Roop Mahajan and his team at Virginia Tech have made significant progress in this race by developing a more sustainable method to source graphene from coal instead of graphite.

Traditionally, graphite has been the primary source for graphene production due to its high carbon content. However, sourcing graphite has its challenges, as it is mainly imported from China, making its supply chain uncertain. Moreover, the increasing demand for batteries, where graphite is a critical ingredient, has put pressure on the supply.

Mahajan’s team’s breakthrough lies in their innovative approach to sourcing graphene from coal, which contains a lower percentage of carbon compared to graphite. By using a modified version of Hummer’s Method and only one hazardous chemical, nitric acid, they have dramatically reduced the number of harsh chemicals involved in the production process. This not only decreases the environmental impact but also minimizes the risk to researchers.

The shift from graphite to coal as the primary source for graphene offers numerous benefits. Firstly, it reduces the reliance on China for graphite supply, ensuring a more stable and secure supply chain. Secondly, it opens doors for the coal industry, which has been rapidly diminishing due to its contribution to global warming. By repurposing coal as a source for graphene, it provides a more sustainable and environmentally friendly use for this resource.

Additionally, Mahajan’s team has achieved a significant economic advantage with their method. They have successfully produced graphene that is 10 to 15 times less expensive than previous methods, making it a more cost-effective supply. This lower-cost supply has the potential to spur new innovations in the market and facilitate the commercialization of graphene.

Lowering the production cost of graphene is crucial to fully harness its exceptional properties and accelerate its adoption across various applications. Graphene’s strength can enhance the damage resistance of cars and planes, while its conductivity can be utilized in wearable electronics. It can also improve battery performance and be used as an antimicrobial agent or water filter. By integrating graphene into existing materials and technologies, Mahajan’s team has unlocked the material’s full potential.

In conclusion, Mahajan’s sustainable method of sourcing graphene from coal not only reduces the environmental impact and risk to researchers but also offers economic benefits. This breakthrough could pave the way for a more widespread adoption of graphene, revolutionizing industries and creating new markets and industries.

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Nayan Kumar
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