The manufacturing industry is always looking for new sustainable materials to build from. So far, they have looked into building homes from straw, fruit peel and even books. Now, a team at Rice University believes they can even make a building material from sugar. The researchers discovered that ordinary table sugar can be processed to form sheets of graphene, a somewhat new building material. It is hoped that the new substance could be used in the creation of the latest generation of electronic devices as it utilises much less energy as well as space (sheets of graphene are only one atom thick!).
Its production would also result in the creation of less greenhouse gases than other building materials, making sugar a viable resource in the fight against global warming. Although graphene is a few years old, the Rice University team believes their version could transform the future of electronic device design and manufacturing, making gizmos faster, lighter and more powerful.
There have been a couple of problems in the full embracing of graphene including its manipulation into other shapes and usable forms, but it is only a matter of time before they can be overcome. Another problem has been manufacturing graphene on a commercial scale, but Rice researchers believe they have found a way around this.
The breakthrough in graphene manufacturing is notable not only for its use of sugar, but also because it resulted in a common, non-toxic material that can be used at low temperature. Before sugar was found as a useful resource, researchers spun carbon-rich materials such as Plexiglass onto a nickel or copper substrate. When exposed to hydrogen and argon gas, the metal acted as a catalyst, and the material reduced to pure carbon, producing a single layer of graphene.
+ Rice University
Image © Flickr Uwe Hermann