Mass-produced graphene: MIT may have cracked it

Graphene roll

Graphene is the wonder compound that’s being hailed as the solution for battery life problems, the building block for paper-thin Wi-Fi receivers, brain-computer interfaces, and many other major technological breakthroughs.

So why isn’t it everywhere? Well, long story short, it’s incredibly difficult and expensive to make. But that could possibly be about to change thanks to a team working out of the prestigious MIT labs. 

In a paper published in online science journal Applied Materials and Interfaces, the team claims that is has managed to create the world’s first roll-to-roll graphene production, paving the way for a scalable, industrial method of graphene creation.

Mass market roll-out

Up until this point, the creation of graphene has mostly happened in tiny batches, using a process called vapor deposition which involves heating copper foil which then has carbon deposited onto it in combination with a mix of gases.

As you can imagine, this process is time consuming, laborious, and expensive. Not to mention it only creates small amounts of graphene, not the sheets that are likely to be needed in real-life applications.

The new process uses roll-to-roll manufacture which is very much what it sounds like, a sheet of copper is transferred from one roll to another, with the vapor deposition happening in the middle of the transfer. You can see the process below:

“Graphene starts forming in little islands, and then those islands grow together to form a continuous sheet,” says John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT. “By the time it’s out of the oven, the graphene should be fully covering the foil in one layer, kind of like a continuous bed of pizza.”

This will allow for vast sheets of graphene to be produced. Now before you get too excited (we’re not over-excited, you’re over-excited, shut up) this process is currently being used to create graphene for the purpose of filtration.

Now, we’re certain that some people will get really jazzed about the idea of a graphene filtration membrane, but we’re most excited about the technological applications. Well, one of  the paper’s other authors, Piran Kidambi, had this to say:

“The system gives you a great degree of flexibility in terms of what you’d like to tune graphene for, all the way from electronic to membrane applications.”

So, brain-computer interfaces? Long-lasting batteries? Maybe. This is still in the testing phase and so could be years until we see the positive effects of it in devices we actually get to use. 


Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.