Will China be able to take graphene made out of corn cobs to market?

Chinese scientists have started to manufacture graphene from corn, they announced at a press conference held at Heilongjiang University. This breakthrough means that graphene could now be made more cheaply, greatly expanding the supply of the material which has until now remained relatively small, China’s Global Times reported.

Previously, the main source of graphene was graphite. Graphene is a rare type of carbon that has found practical applications in the semiconductor, electronics and battery industries. The super-light material is 200 times stronger than steel, an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and nearly transparent.

This latest breakthrough means that scientists will now be able to produce graphene more cheaply, greatly expanding the supply of the material which has until now remained relatively small.

Fu Honggang, deputy dean at the School of Chemistry and Materials Sciences of Heilongjiang University began research into biological sources of graphene to chip away the expense and enormous pollution of traditional production methods, the report said.

The university cooperated on this research with the Shengquan Group, a Jinan-based chemicals firm, and set up the word’s first manufacturing line dedicated to producing graphene from biological sources in 2014. It produced 20 tonnes of graphene from corn fibres in its first year and later expanded its annual output to 100 tonnes in 2016.

Chinese scientists have started to manufacture graphene from corn

Corn cobs all around

This breakthrough will help Heilongjiang put its agricultural waste to good use, said Yu Lihe, deputy director of Heilongjiang’s Science and Technology Department.

In China, the yearly output of corn cobs among all biomass can reach as much as 100 million tons, most of which comes from northeast China, Shandong province and Hebei province. The product line, supported by biomass graphene materials with a yearly output of 100 tons, can create an output value of 300 to 500 million RMB (between $43.6 million and $72.7 million).

Graphene been hailed as the strongest and most conductive material in the world, with a huge range of electronic and medical applications. Sporting goods companies were among the first to make graphene-enhanced products – aside from bike frames and tyres, there are graphene-enriched tennis rackets from Head.

Graphene has a tensile strength of 130 gigapascals (Gpa), and, on a molecular level, is claimed to be the strongest known material in the world, 2000 per cent stronger than the toughest carbon fibre, It is stronger than diamond.

Graphene is also a superlative electrical conductor and can be used to in electronic drivetrains, power meters, computers, and lights. There are plenty of strong claims made for the use of graphene in the bike industry but, to date, only Vittoria, Catlike and Dassi have graphene-linked products on the market.

Catlike uses graphene in its high-end Mixino helmet. Vittoria’s 2017 tyre range majors on the inclusion of graphene in its list of ingredients. Vittoria claims that adding a one-atom-thick layer of graphene allows its tyres to remain hard on the straights but soften during braking or cornering. The Graphene+ tyres are also longer-lasting and more puncture resistant, says the Italian company, and they dissipate heat more efficiently.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.


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