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3-D Graphene Form: 'Stronger than Steel'

Friday, January 13, 2017

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A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says it has produced a material that has 5 percent the density of steel and 10 times its strength—with a range of possible applications including in buildings, vehicles, devices and bridges.

The material is composed of compressed flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, according to an MIT announcement on the research.

“In its two-dimensional form, graphene is thought to be the strongest of all known materials,” the institute writes. However, researchers in the past have struggled to translate that two-dimensional strength into useful three-dimensional materials.

That’s where Markus Buehler, the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the McAfee Professor of Engineering, and his team stepped in.

Geometry is A Factor

Buehler and his team focused on the 3-D forms’ unusual geometrical configuration, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating such geometric patterns.

“You can replace the material itself with anything,” Buehler said in a statement. “The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”

In the lab, the team was able to compress small flakes of graphene using a combination of heat and pressure. They produced strong, stable structures with coral-like features. These shapes, known as gyroids, are so complex that “actually making them using conventional manufacturing methods is probably impossible,” Buehler adds.

The team subjected the shapes through multiple tension and compression tests and simulations, and they proved to be “remarkably strong” yet as dense as the lightest plastic bag, the scientists report.

Manufacturing Possibility

Translating these developments into real-life applications has its challenges.

The researchers say one possible way to manufacture such materials could be accomplished by using a polymer or metal particles as templates, coating them with graphene by chemical vapor deposit before heat and pressure treatments and then removing the polymer or metal to leave the 3-D graphene form.

The team specifically noted that concrete for a structure such as a bridge might be made with this porous geometry, providing comparable strength with a fraction of the weight. This approach would have the additional benefit of providing good insulation because of the large amount of enclosed airspace within it.

The team’s findings have been published in the journal Science Advances.

In addition to Buehler, co-authors were Zhao Qin, a CEE research scientist; Gang Seob Jung, a graduate student; and Min Jeong Kang, a recent graduate.

The research was supported by the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, and BASF-North American Center for Research on Advanced Materials.

   

Tagged categories: concrete; Graphene; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Metals; Research and development; Steel; Technology

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