Today I ran across this article in the New York Times blog.

I admit, I had never (or perhaps only in passing), heard of this stuff before, and I’m a bit wary of BEST THING EVAR! FUTURE IS HERE! types of articles. So, folks who know about this stuff: is this material really as revolutionary and cost-effective and practical as the article makes it out to be? From the way the article is written, it sounds like it should be the biggest thing since, I don’t know, the transistor.

Help me put this in perspective. What is the article leaving out in terms of the difficulties of using this substance/making practical use of it, etc. It just all seems a little too good to be true.

From what I’ve seen, although people keep coming up with progressively better methods to create the stuff, we don’t yet have a way to make enough of it, or big enough pieces of it, to do full-on production of something that capitalizes on its abilities. So, even though we’ve been able to do small-scale tests of what it can do, we can’t make a cell phone battery that will charge from empty to full in 10 seconds, or a programmable-color skin for a car, or a camouflage cloak that makes you pretty darn invisible, for anything remotely resembling an affordable price.

Development of a truly phenomenal use for the stuff may spur research into larger-scale, cheaper production methods, but until then, it’s on the level of stem cell research, or that girl who figured out how to use piezoelectric crystals to make a flashlight that’s powered with your own body heat: Amazing, phenomenal results, but there’s not too much we can do with it from a practical standpoint.

Ok, so the “the real kicker? Graphene is inexpensive” is perhaps a little overstated or unqualified?

From here (just published 4/10, so don’t shoot me):
“The caveat is really in the quality of the graphene that can be produced on a large scale … If they can overcome that then it will be a big breakthrough.”

“Another limitation comes in the form of its production – currently it can only be synthesized in small crystals. While this is enough for researchers to test its properties and understand the tantalizing benefits of the material, it is not sufficient to produce it for mass commercial use.”


“The Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology last week announced it had developed “a breakthrough synthesis method” of producing graphene, and the hopes are that this will pave the way for the commercialization of the material.”

The raw material is graphite, so that won’t be very expensive, but the costs will be in the manufacturing process. Carbon fiber is made from inexpensive polymers that are heated to carbonize them, but it’s taken decades to get the cost of carbon fiber down from exhorbitant to expensive.

ETA: You can make it yourself.

What ??

Flashlight. There’s a YouTube video of it, but I can’t get to YT from work.

OK, so that’s the catch. To me, calling something “inexpensive” by ignoring the cost of the manufacturing process is a bit misleading.

It has the potential to be inexpensive. When discussing technology it’s traditional to use pie-in-the-sky lowball numbers for costs. Sometimes the dream comes true. With something like graphene there will be steadily decreasing costs as the stuff is manufactured in greater quantities. Better processes could bring the price down substantially, but it takes time. If you described the computer you’re operating on now to someone 40 years ago they’d think it would cost millions of dollars. Compared to those days computers today seem like they’re free. But the 40 year wait can be annoying.

OK, I guess I just don’t talk/read about technology enough to realize this is an inherent assumption. I’ll keep that in mind.

Hey – maybe demand for carbon will rise enough to make it affordable to scrub CO2 from exhausts!

Yeah, never mind. It’d take too much energy to split the C from the O2, which is why we have all that CO2 in the first place (joining the C and O2 to get energy). Oh well. Another world-saving idea, ruined by mere reality.

It’s a floor polish, it’s a dessert topping! Graphene!

I get that it’s an interesting material - and I’m sure someone will find some interesting applications for it that they do actually manage to pursue all the way to production, but right now, it seems like it’s being touted as having miraculous properties. Talk is cheap.

Sorry for the hijack, but how many people read this quote…

…and expected the answer to be “Hitler”?

I think I read too many joke posts on this board.

A nano-graphene space elevator attached to a fusion power plant in orbit - I tell ya’, twenty years, tops!

Is there some way to laminate this stuff? 200 times stronger than steel or not, at one atom thick I bet I could tear it to shreads pretty easily!

Don’t forget the graphene flying cars - Real Soon Now.

Indeed! One of the remarks in that article mentioned that a little cube of the stuff weighs 1/7 as much as air and can balance on the tip of a blade of grass.

Huh? If it weighs 1/7 as much as air, they’d have to tie it down to keep it there.

This is the stuff of which airships are made! We’ll all have our own personal flying airships!

ETA: The Graphene Zeppelin.

This jumped out at me too… Then it floats in air.