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MIT Working On Industrial-Scale Graphene Printing Press

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the let's-build-a-graphene-igloo dept.

Science 60

surewouldoutlaw writes "Hot on the heels of news that research into graphene is being funded by the NSF, MIT says it is working on an industrial-size graphene printing press for synthesizing sheets as large as 1-km square. The current record is 76 cm sq. Tomas Palacios, director of the Center for Graphene Devices and Systems, said, 'The way I approach graphene is different from most other researchers in this field. Ninety-nine percent of the papers on graphene have been written by physicists, focusing on amazing and unique properties of the material. I have the point of view of an engineer. I’m interested in finding the best applications for graphene’s unique properties.'"

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1km^2 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37495166)

One square kilometer as in 1000 m * 1000 m --- How do they even have room for the process?

Guess I'll have to RTFA to figure our what they really mean. Probably something about stitching them together.

Re:1km^2 (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37495358)

I suspect he means one square kilometer, not one kilometer square. I know paper is generally made in very large rolls, and I would expect the engineer to try to replicate that method with the new material.

Re:1km^2 (3, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495372)

... because they pulled the number out of their you-know-what? The article makes the claim, but the article that it links to (http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/09/mit-launches-new-graphene-laboratory.php as its' source) doesn't make any such claims.

They want to produce rolls of the stuff. Sure, 1 square kilometer of material could be 1km * 1km, or 10km * 100m, or 100km * 10m, but it's more likely to be a strip 1,000km * 1m, or 10,000km * 10cm than 1km * 1km ...

Re:1km^2 (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#37496674)

I'd prefer it more around the 0.027m range. That way the long end is 37000km.
And if they just do a little finishing work and roll it over, it's now a single-wall carbon nano-tube and it can reach geosynchronous orbit and we've got ourselves a space elevator.

Re:1km^2 (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37497254)

Why is everyone fixated on using nanotubes for space elevators? You do know that bulk graphene is stronger, right?

I try to hammer this into everyone's head every time there is a space elevator thread, but they all keep yapping about nanotubes. It's a conundrum.

Re:1km^2 (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#37515320)

Well nanotubes are a little older and graphene is a little newer, so we're preaching what we know. Furthermore, nanotubes have had experimental tests proving their tensile strength while graphene's properties are still... theoretical...

Re:1km^2 (2)

Artraze (600366) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495388)

It's also 1m x 1,000,000 m, i.e. a giant roll.

While I initially thought the same as you, I have to image this is what they're after as a square strikes me as not only impractical but also rather useless.

Re:1km^2 (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495688)


Graphene is significantly less than a nanometer thick. A million layers of that is still only a millimeter.

This "giant roll" could have the diameter of a roll of toilet paper. If the cardboard tube is a decimeter across.

space between walls (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 2 years ago | (#37496890)

Depends on how tightly you can roll it without disrupting it.

Tearing is not supposed to be a problem? Stretching?

Well, sticking will be a problem.

You have to have some space between layers or the layers will stick together, whether bonding together or simple exerting static cling that makes it hard to unroll. And even problems with air pressure, if the roll is wider than 10-20 cm.

It's not quite going to be like spidey's web stuff.

Industrial Applications / Scale (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495752)

What they are talking about is a continues manufacturing process. It just means that they can get a good production run. I am sure they will cut down the 1km^2 into something more reasonable.

It’s the same for LCD screens. They come off these huge glass sheets. The cut out the defective parts and then figure out what to turn into to. (A couple large TVs, many small TVs, or lots of phone screens.)

Re:1km^2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37495406)

It isn't obvious to you, that they meant the surface area of 1 km^2?
I think I can safely assume it will be one long strip of whatever the maximum width they want to sell is, with cutters in both directions following it to make smaller pieces.
And the final goal will probably be one endless process of infinite kilometers.

Re:1km^2 (2)

spatley (191233) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495966)

Ugh, the level to which this has been mis-quoted shows a lack of understanding by the TPM authors bordering on idiocy.

The previously made sheet of graphene was cited to be 76 centimeters square. but the original article http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2010/June/20061001.asp [rsc.org] notes that the sheet was 76 Centimeters on the diagonal which would be 54 centimeters on a side if it was a perfect square: 2916 square centimeters.

So if we were to use their own retarded logic system, the claim of attempting a sheet that was one kilometer square, that would actually mean one kilometer on the diagonal. so a centimeter wide and just under a kilometer long would suffice to satisfy the claim.

Re:1km^2 (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 2 years ago | (#37516230)

Computer screens are always measured by their diagonal, so it's not as retarded as you seem to think (even if the terminology they used was horribly wrong).

I scanned TFA to try to find out what was meant by "1-km square" and failed, though, so you do get credit for finding that.

Re:1km^2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37496336)

Yeah, or it could be a 25,000 meter roll, 40 meters wide?

Re:1km^2 (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#37498432)

Well, they can probably bind the edges of two graphene sheets together literally seamlessly. So you make a bunch of 1km long rolls that are a metre wide. Now make a machine that can take two rolls, unspool them, bind the edges together, and wind them on a third spool - like the graphene equivalent of two ply bathroom tissue. So now you have a 100km roll of 2m wide graphene that's folded lengthwise. Do that with all of your single ply rolls (you'll have 1000 of them). Now feed two of the double ply rolls into your binding machine and you'll wind up with a single roll of 4 ply graphene with a "W" fold so that the 4m width fits on a 1m wide spool. Repeat the process as necessary to build the width out to 1km, accordian folded to 1m wide and rolled onto a spool.

So... any moderate sized plant should be able to handle the machinery.

Can't be done. (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37495168)

3M doesn't make Scotch Tape (TM) that big.

Re:Can't be done. (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495286)

They do. They make scotch tape on a continues machine. It just keep coming and coming – then it’s rolled onto the tub, sliced (but only because they want it to be manageable – they could keep on going) and cut (one industrial roll equals scores of scores of retail rolls.)

Re:Can't be done. (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495392)

They do. They make scotch tape on a continues machine. It just keep coming and coming – then it’s rolled onto the tub, sliced (but only because they want it to be manageable – they could keep on going) and cut (one industrial roll equals scores of scores of retail rolls.)

That's what she said... before her untimely death...

Re:Can't be done. (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495440)

excuse my French sir, but bullshit!

I don't even need a multi-million-dollar government grant to determine that the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing corporation would have a hard time producing further Scotch brand tape once the roll had undergone gravitational collapse.

Re:Can't be done. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495770)

I agree with your "bullshit" call, but not your excuse.

I bet they start with giant rolls of plastic film, then paint on the adhesive as they roll it onto small, long rolls of a few meters of tape each, then chop it off and slice it into various widths and start the next output roll.

It'd be darned interesting if they just fed resin pellets in one end and took wrapping-tape rolls off the other, but I doubt that's how it goes. Having the offloading and onloading part of the process gives you a chance to deal with problems on one end or the other of the process, while still running the other end. And to use either end with differing types of other ends.

Very Bad News... (1)

jomama717 (779243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495172)

All the sooner that public bathrooms will be stocked with graphene toilet paper.

Brings up an interesting question: at 1 atom thick, how long a strip of graphene would a standard toilet paper roll represent?

Re:Very Bad News... (2, Funny)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495320)

Stocking single ply wasn't enough for them? Now they need to go to single atom? And people wonder why I don't poop in public restrooms....

Re:Very Bad News... (0)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495410)

Stocking single ply wasn't enough for them? Now they need to go to single atom? And people wonder why I don't poop in public restrooms....

I wonder if the company makes condoms as well?

Re:Very Bad News... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37495414)

And how do you tear it?

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

erice (13380) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495598)

With a high powered hand held lazer conveniently latched next to the roll. What could go wrong?

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495776)

It's graphene, not kevlar. The hard part is not tearing it.

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37497292)

lolwat? Graphene has the highest tensile strength of any bulk material known to man. It basically can't be torn except by truly unheard of stresses, or by catalysts plus a lot of heat. Kevlar is wet toilet paper compared to graphene.

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37497370)

Um, think "bulk" and think how much "bulk" a material one atom thick has.

Now, if you stack the sheets it'll be like tearing a phone book.

But if it's one sheet, we're talking micronewtons to shred it.

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37505826)

You should learn about things before you naysay them. At least read the wiki article. Even a monolayer of graphene is not easy to tear, and the process we are talking about produce much thicker films (stacks of them). I mean, the stuff is made out of aromaticity, for Christ's sake. I don't think you can even theorize a stronger material than that. It is extremely difficult to break even a small aromatic system (ie extremely high energy), imagine how hard it is to break a line of 10^12 atoms of it in a line such that the bulk material tears apart.

I am a chemist, BTW.

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37521216)

You should learn about things before you naysay them

Wow, did you just shove your entire foot in your mouth.

Don't forget that the bond energies, while they have the unit "kcal" in them, which sounds like a lot of energy, also have "per mole" in them, which is a reduction by a factor of nearly 10^24.

While such a material is relatively strong, it's still just one layer of atomic bonds.

"Even a monolayer of graphene is not easy to tear," only if you're the size of two layers of graphene.

And you don't tear things by breaking a trillion bonds simultaneously. Tearing starts from one end, or in the middle at a point where the stress concentrates. I don't even know how you'd be able to align things so that you could apply equal force to every one of a trillion bonds. That'd be a much bigger feat than making a square kilometer of graphene.

If you can even feel the force of your fingers ripping through it as you pick it up and it shreds from mishandling, you've probably got exposed nerve endings.

Cooking "meth" from stuff you find in the fridge doesn't make you a chemist.

Re:Very Bad News... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37497940)

Monocrystalline graphene is indeed pretty impressive stuff; however, currently existing large graphene sheets (> mm scale) is composed of many crystals that have coalesced (i.e., polycrystalline) and is pathetically weak owing to grain boundaries which yield defects. It's actually an interesting situation as a sheet of the strongest material ever made will fall apart if you even breathe on it.

Although many people, myself included, are hopeful that very large, monocrystalline graphene will be synthesized in the near future, it hasn't happened yet.

Re:Very Bad News... (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37505812)

Yeah, it has, and it is incredibly cheap and easy. Graphene can be formed in a controllable manner on a metal foil by sprinkling carbonaceous material on said foil, then heating the foil and flowing gas across it. Forms very nicely, and can be done in multiple layers. That is likely the manner that is being employed in this manufacturing process.

Got the answer (3, Informative)

jomama717 (779243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495542)

Using the wikipedia statement that "a stack of three million sheets would be only one millimeter thick" and a handy online rolled material calculator [handymath.com] (using 1.5 inch center diameter and 6 inch outer diameter) you get ~32,000 miles!!!

is NSF not already funding graphene research? (1)

snoop.daub (1093313) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495212)

I can't be positive, but I'd be shocked to find out that NSF has not already awarded many research groups grants to study graphene... so I'm not sure what that link is doing there.

Space elevator (1)

Artraze (600366) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495512)

If they are indeed intending to make these 1km^2 area sheets as long rolls instead of ridiculous squares, it seems to me that this has interesting implications for a space elevator. At a lenth of 35,000km, an area of 1 km^2 works out to be 2.8cm, which could then be rolled into essentially a giant nano tube. According to Wikipedia, graphene's tensile strength is 130GPa, which is incidentally precisely the estimated material strength required to build a space elevator (again, according to a quick Wiki check).

So, it looks like if they can indeed manage this, we will be much closer to the tech required to build a space elevator. (And perhaps, in a more general sense, finally have what nanotubes have long promised.)

Re:Space elevator (2)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495614)

The devil is in the details.

Getting the graphene sheet to properly seal in such a perfectly uniform way without disrupting the orderliness of the parent sheet in the process would be a pretty fancy trick.

Developing sheets is fairly easy, as they can be produced using ordinary vapor deposition.

Rolling up that sheet into uniform and regular tubes is a whole different kettle of fish.

Re:Space elevator (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495748)

My vote is for solar sails, if you can give the sheet some rigidity and reflectivity.

Re:Space elevator (1)

SixAndFiftyThree (1020048) | more than 2 years ago | (#37497708)

Sails have to be rigid? Have you looked at a sailing boat lately?

Reflectivity would double the thrust over simply absorbing the photons, but any metal coating except maybe lithium or beryllium would more than double the mass, right? So I'll take naked graphene, with some kind of rip-stop reinforcement of course.

Re:Space elevator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37496444)

It's the space elevator all right, but not the way you have envisioned it. What they are planning is, in fact, making 1km*1km square sheets of graphene.
When they've made one, they will be laying it flat on the ground and move the graphene sheet making machine (GSMM) onto the sheet. They will then make another sheet of graphene. They will put the other one on top of the first one, folded, so as to not cover their GSMM. Lifting the GSMM and their feet appropriately, they will roll out the second sheet to fully cover the first sheet. Then they will set the machine back down onto the sheets. This process will be repeated for the time being. No calculations or designs have been finished yet, but the team was very eager to get started, so a very thin material was chosen, so that they would have ample time perfecting the design as they go along, while still getting a slight bit on the way to space.

Space elevator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37495706)

How far is a rolled graphene tube from the coveted carbon nanotubes of space elevator destiny?

Re:Space elevator (3, Informative)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37495810)

The difference is one of manufacturing process.

A graphene sheet could arguably be created using vapor deposition and big ass hydraulic press rollers. (Regularity and uniformity of the carbon lattice might be an issue at such thin material scales.)

A nanotube making machine that makes use of sheet stock would need to have:

1) very high quality sheet stock, free from any defects.
2) be able to cut this sheet into a thin (12 to 20 atoms wide) strip, and then seamlessly curl this molecular width sheet into a tube with exacting precision, and then apply some form of energy to bind the sheet edges together seamlessly, and without disrupting the configuration of the other carbon atoms in the tube wall.

That is a helluva lot of caveats to industrual long tube synth from sheet stock.

More likely, the graphene sheets will be used in aviation as prepreg material for strong and light skins for high velocity craft, like fighter jets.

Re:Space elevator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37497366)

I suspect he meant in engineering terms -- i.e., if we can make a 1mm wide cable with X strength by bundling (hypothetical) >1m long nanotubes, how does a 1mm cable of rolled-up (scroll, not closed tube) graphene compare?

And if not, well, I think that's what he should be wondering.

Re:Space elevator (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 2 years ago | (#37501818)

Actually, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphene#Mechanical_properties [wikipedia.org], "Measurements have shown that graphene has a breaking strength 200 times greater than steel, with a tensile strength of 130 GPa (19,000,000 psi)."

And from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator#21st_century [wikipedia.org], "The largest holdup to Edwards' proposed design is the technological limit of the tether material. His calculations call for a fiber composed of epoxy-bonded carbon nanotubes with a minimal tensile strength of 130 GPa (19 million psi) (including a safety factor of 2)"

Does anyone know more on this?

applications, applications! (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 2 years ago | (#37497014)

Everybody wants the sweet jobs.

But nobody wants to do the work.

And then they say that's what makes them different from everyone else.

What this guy is saying is just that he's betting that the tech is finally getting there for some profitable applications. (Nothing new on that bet, really.)

And that he is terribly impatient with all the physicists who are taking way too long to turn this magic technology into money.

a bit late to this party (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37501506)

I'm sure Palacios didn't mean what he said there. Either that, or he's lost his mind.

I know of several physicists with startup companies aimed at constructing reel-to-reel graphene manufacturing. It would be silly for a physicist to try and build such a device, which is why they hire engineers.

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