Samsung says it is closer to flexible electronics after graphene breakthrough

Samsung and an affiliated laboratory say they have grown large-scale, impurity free graphene, an important step toward making the material inexpensive enough for use in the electronics industry.

The team out of Sungkyunkwan University’s School of Advanced Materials Science and Engineering and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology was able to make large sheets of graphene by growing it on a layer of specially treated germanium. The graphene begins growing in several places and then joins together, merging several small sheets into one large seamless one; a feat that has been very challenging up until now.

The graphene and germanium are only weakly attached, allowing the team to remove the graphene as a standalone sheet and reuse the germanium. Its work appears today in Science (subscription required).

Graphene, which is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms, is strong, flexible and excellent at conducting electricity and heat. As a result, Samsung and other device manufacturers are very interested in incorporating it into the upcoming generation of wearable and flexible electronics.

Graphene is often touted for its potential to replace silicon in computer chips, which would allow for faster, more efficient computing. But it is also a major candidate for displays — which generally rely on indium tin oxide — because graphene is just an atom thick, transparent and ultra-tough.

Graphene is made up of an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms that form a repeating pattern of hexagons.
Graphene is made up of an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms that form a repeating pattern of hexagons.

But before graphene can be incorporated into electronics, it needs to be possible to manufacture it in large quantities at a low price. Just a decade ago, researchers were making it by laboriously attempting to scrape single layers of atoms off of graphite (also known as pencil lead), which is made up of layers of graphene. Manufacturing has evolved quickly since then and, for several years now, labs have been able to make sheets that measure at least a few feet across. But producing larger sheets can lead to impurities in the graphene that dampen its unusual characteristics.