Within 15 years of graphene first being isolated as a substance, local researchers have developed a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way of producing the material from an abundant source – Australian eucalyptus trees.
Graphene is the thinnest and strongest material known to humans. It also is flexible, transparent and conducts heat and electricity 10 times better than copper. This makes graphene ideal for bendable nanoelectronics, powerful computer chips, better solar panels, water filters, bio-sensors, fuel cells and more.
Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne and India's National Institute of Technology, Warangal (NITW), have published the results of their study into eucalyptus bark as a source for graphene in the ACS journal Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.
Professor Vishnu Shanker from NITW said the 'green' chemistry used avoids the use of toxic reagents, which potentially opens the door to the use of graphene in biocompatible materials.
While chemical reduction is the most common method for synthesising graphene oxide it relies on reducing agents that are dangerous to living beings and the environment, RMIT said.
However, when tested in the application of a supercapacitor, the 'green' graphene produced using this method matched the quality and performance characteristics of traditionally-produced graphene, without the toxic reagents.
Lead researcher, RMIT's Distinguished Professor Suresh Bhargava, said eucalyptus bark extract had never before been used to synthesis graphene sheets and the outcomes of the study have major benefits.
"We are thrilled to find that it not only works, it's in fact a superior method, both in terms of safety and overall cost," he revealed.
The study found that production costs could be reduced from $US100 per gram down to just 50 US cents. Professor Bhargava said this would increase its availability to industries globally and enable the development of "an array of vital new technologies".