Kitchen Science: Making Graphene In A Blender
April 23, 2014

Don’t Try This At Home – Graphene From A Kitchen Blender

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Graphene is a form of electrically conductive carbon being hailed as a miracle material capable of revolutionizing everything from high-end electronics to biological engineering. A new study from a large team of British and Irish researchers has described a recipe for graphene that only requires a few common household materials and a kitchen blender.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Materials, basically tacked on the kitchen recipe almost as an afterthought. The study team said the instructions were included to demonstrate how graphene production could be easily scaled up to industrial proportions.

To make graphene, the researchers took a 400-watt kitchen blender, added half a liter of water, 10 to 25 milliliters of detergent and 20 to 50 grams of graphite powder, which could be taken from pencil lead. After blending for 10 to 30 minutes – the researchers were able to produce a large number of micrometer-sized flakes of graphene, suspended in the water, according to the report.

The study team said their method required a specific balance of surfactant and graphite – on which they did not provide specifics. They also said the method would ruin most kitchen blenders.

For their report, the researchers actually used a scientific blender along with centrifuges and other laboratory equipment to extract the tiny flakes. This patented process was then scaled up to the size of a pilot plant. Project leader Andy Goodwin said he wants to be creating a kilogram of graphene each day by the end of this year. This graphene could be sold as a dehydrated powder and also as a liquid suspension.

“It is a significant step forward towards cheap and scalable mass production,” Andrea Ferrari, an expert on graphene at the University of Cambridge told Nature News Blog. “The material is of a quality close to the best in the literature, but with production rates apparently hundreds of times higher.”

The graphene produced by this method isn’t of the quality produced by the method developed by Nobel Prize-winning Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from Manchester University, who famously used Scotch Tape to extract single sheets from graphite. Another method grows massive sheets of graphene by using vapor. The study team said their lower-quality graphene is suitable for most uses outside of high-end electronics.

Study author Jonathan Coleman, a physicist at Trinity College Dublin, said that although graphene is widely available on the internet, much of the stuff being sold online is either way too thick or full of impurities.

“Most of the companies are selling stuff that I wouldn’t even call graphene,” Coleman said.

The blender method produces flakes four or five layers thick – but without the impurities that compromise electrical conductivity. Coleman noted that “the graphene market isn’t one size fits all” and there are multiple potential applications for the graphene produced by his team’s method – such as making electrically conductive rubber bands and plastics bottles that are both stronger and better at keeping out beverage-spoiling gases.

Coleman predicted that the refinement of graphene production techniques will lead to the emergence of a few dominant players in the graphene market.

“There are many companies making and selling graphene now: there will be many fewer in five years’ time,” he said.