graphene molecules

Have you ever heard of a material that costs $2,000 per gram? If not, you probably haven’t heard of graphene. Graphene is a revolutionary new material that is poised to upend a variety of industries. Some people feel graphene is the most important scientific discovery of the 21st-Century.

Not only is graphene extremely strong, but it is also an incredible conductor of heat and electricity. Even more, it is highly applicable in the new field of nanotechnology. Whether it be reinforcing composites for building materials, or developing flexible electronics, graphene is nothing short of amazing.

While we are still in the early phases of understanding the many uses of graphene, industrial hemp is already showing promise in providing a similar material. Graphene from hemp fiber offers great potential for similar nanotechnology applications, while doing so at just a fraction of the cost of regular graphene.

While both graphene and hemp nanosheets are still largely in the beta phase, we thought it would be interesting to review these exciting new topics.

What is Graphene?

While it is extremely light and thin, Graphene is widely regarded as the strongest material on earth. On a nano-level, graphene “is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like pattern.”

While the strength of graphene is nothing short of amazing, it has many more potential applications. Graphene is also believed to be the most conductive material ever discovered both for electricity and heat. As such, it shows astounding promise in the computer and electronics industries.

Researchers Adre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first discovered graphene in 2004. They made the discovery by slowly peeling apart layers of graphite with tape. Eventually, they analyzed thin layers of graphite which they dubbed “graphene.” Geim and Konstantin were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”

What is Graphene Made Of?

According to an article published in the Guardian, “graphene is extracted from graphite, the material used in pencils. Like graphite, graphene is entirely composed of carbon atoms and 1mm of graphite contains some 3 million layers of graphene. Whereas graphite is a three-dimensional crystalline arrangement, graphene is a two-dimensional crystal only an atom thick.”

While graphene is made from one of the most commonly occurring compounds on earth, carbon, scientists had not yet seen this material presented with such a unique formation.

What is Graphene Used For?

It is important to note that graphene was just discovered in 2004. To this end, while the scientific community is extremely excited about this new compound, we are still learning about its potential applications. As such, most products that utilize graphene are still in the development phase.

Electricity & Conductivity: Graphene is widely regarded as the most conductive material on earth for both heat and electricity. As such, it can be used for nearly any application requiring an electric current. One of the most exciting uses for graphene is to increase the speed of circuitry in cell phones, tablets, and computers.

Nanotechnology: Because graphene is only the width of a single layer of atoms, it shows great promise in nanotechnology. Whether it be with medical applications or computer hardware, the ability to work at such a small scale makes graphene very attractive to nanotech companies.

Composite Materials: Due to the fact that graphene is extremely strong and lightweight, it can be used as a composite to strengthen other materials. Potential uses for graphene composites include airplanes, spacecraft, automobiles, building materials, sports equipment, and much more.

Graphene Production from Hemp

Hemp bast fibers can be processed into a material that resembles graphene on a molecular level. Since this material is sourced from industrial hemp, rather than graphite, it would be incorrect to refer to it as graphene. Rather graphene from hemp is more correctly named “hemp nanosheets.”

Hemp nanosheets are “made up of layers of lignin, hemicellulose, and crystalline cellulose.” When manufactured correctly, hemp bast can be reduced to extremely thin sheets that resemble graphene. This newfound application in hemp graphene could be a huge boon for hemp farmers.

To make hemp-based graphene, manufacturers heat hemp bast to a steady 350 deg Fahrenheit for an entire day. This extended heating period breaks plant material down and carbonizes cellulose. After that, the hemp feedstock is heated to 1400 deg Fahrenheit and mixed with potassium hydroxide. This process results in hemp nanosheets that resemble graphene.

Hemp Nanosheet Uses

Graphene from hemp fiber can be made for a fraction of the cost that it takes to manufacture standard graphene from graphite. In fact, hemp nanosheets can be made from “anywhere between $500 and $1,000 a ton.” Needless to say, this figure stands in stark contradiction to graphene, which costs around $100 per gram to produce.

Because hemp nanosheets are so much cheaper to manufacture than traditional graphene, there is a good deal of excitement surrounding them. Ideally, hemp nanosheets will be able to be used anywhere that graphene is applicable.

A particularly exciting use for hemp graphene is nanotechnology purposes. Different products that can be made via nanotechnology include:

  • Eyeglasses
  • Computer screens
  • Fabrics
  • Transistors
  • Flexible electronics
  • Flash memory chips

Researchers are also hoping to use hemp nanosheets as the primary ingredient in supercapacitors. Supercapacitors are batteries that can “charge and discharge” their energy storage in almost an instant. As such, they have the potential to revolutionize the way we store and transmit power with batteries.

Thus far, graphene from hemp has gotten a good deal of attention as the ideal compound for supercapacitors. Nonetheless, as seen with other applications like nanotechnology, hemp nanosheets could become the primary ingredient in supercapacitors.

Summary

Graphene is one of the most celebrated discoveries of the 21st-century. Whether it be for medical technology or computer equipment, graphene shows extremely exciting promise. Yet, while the excitement surrounding graphene is well-founded, it is extremely expensive to produce.

Hemp nanosheets offer an intriguing alternative to graphene. If the science behind hemp-based graphene is correct, it can be used in place of traditional graphene for only a fraction of the cost.

As we learn more about both graphene and hemp nanosheets, it will be interesting to see how the research behind each informs our understanding of both materials. Ideally, as each technology advances, we can utilize hemp nanosheets where graphene is simply too expensive to implement.
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