Graphene [Book Review]

I love my couch. And guess what I just finished doing on my couch………wait, that doesn’t sound right at all! Let’s start again.

I love cuddling on my couch with a good book. It’s a rainy day, and I was finally able to finish the last chapter (and possibly one of the most interesting ones) in my latest read Graphene.

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Graphene is an up-and-coming, possibly over-exaggerated, material in the scientific and high-tech industries. It’s a material that has interesting characteristics in conductivity, durability, and optical properties (just to name a few). Carbon fiber technology is a very rough, dirty version of the technology that still possesses some of the high strength-to-weight properties that graphene promises to improve on.

The book starts out by discussing a little bit of chemistry. Actually….. it talks a bit too much about chemistry for my taste. If you picked up this book because you are interested in graphene, you probably have had taken chemistry in college by now and will skip the first ~12 pages.

Graphene is another form of crystalline carbon. It’s a common fact that diamond is just pure carbon and is the hardest (“common”) material on earth due to its 3D atomic structure. Graphene, however, is a 2D (flat) crystalline layout made from a repeating pattern of carbon-based hexagons bound by alternating single and double bonds. This delocalizes the electrons that make up the double bonds that can freely flow through the 2D structure and result in the material’s high conductivity. See the right-most graphic in the image below:

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Graphene is more-or-less an academic curiosity in this generation, so don’t expect to see many uses for this material anytime soon. And here’s why! Most of the applications for graphene require the controlled growth of a single layer of the 2D structure or the manufacturing of very long lengths of the “film,” even if it’s a few layers high (at most).

Currently, we can mine graphene, but it comes out in a mess of tiny crystals that are meshed together in random orientations like straw in a haystack. This form is called graphite, the same stuff used in everyday pencils. It’s roughly shiny, breaks down easily, and kind-of conductive. The first experimental form of graphene evaluated was literally peeled off a piece of graphite using Scotch tape. And most of the producers of graphene just grind down “high-quality” graphite and suspend it in a liquid solution to keep these minuscule flakes separated.

It’s an interesting topic, but the layout of the book really bothered me.  The book talks about graphene and how amazing it is, but it doesn’t go into the details of these capabilities until well over halfway into the book. It talks about how to make it BEFORE the applications of the material. This irritated me more after I realized that these production processes don’t come close to what we need for these specified applications, make it mostly irrelevant. For example: tiny flakes aren’t useful for much if you have to glue them all together; the adhesive become the weakest link in the system.

There is also an entire chapter that talks about how graphene replaces most materials and just makes them better with no strong depth into HOW graphene can deliver these promises; it just lists where we can stick it. Solar panels, water filters, heaters, batteries, bandages, socks, car oil?…..you name it.

Oh….they only start using graphene symbols in the last third of the book to separate chapter sections. They just come out of nowhere.

The last few chapters actually go more into the technical details about applications and how they could be technically designed for practical uses. For example, there are 6 pages just on the topic of solar sails. It’s like a whole different author wrote that chapter. Additional topics of interest include the materials controlled conductivity (chapter 6), bio-enhanced applications (chapter 10), and nano-machines (chapter 11).

Thus, filtering through the disorganization and side rants (supply-demand, unrelated technology, patent trends?), I did obtain some interesting knowledge on the topic but still found myself still having this unsatisfied fill of info. I can’t help but feel that the authors just wanted to briefly write a book to put “book author” on their resume, and the editors received it and were like……”meh, good enough. Let’s just make some money. SOMEONE will buy it.”

Oh, don’t forget to feed your pets graphene…..this book essentially boasts the promises of the material in EVERYTHING!

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