NewsBytes Explainer: Here's how graphene will transform smartphone technology
It's hard to miss graphene even if you are only tangentially interested in technology. This wonder material spans a mind-boggling spectrum of possible engineering applications that can radically improve commercial products. For the unversed, graphene basically constitutes carbon atoms bonded in a hexagonal pattern to form sheets that are only a single atom thick. This technically makes the material a two-dimensional carbon allotrope.
Graphene transistors will make smartphone PCBs lot more efficient
Graphene's peculiar structure makes it a zero-overlap semimetal, wherein both electrons and holes serve as charge carriers. This endows it with ballistic conductivity, which means it can conduct electrical charge much faster and more efficiently. This property allows graphene-based transistors to operate at 300Ghz or 30 times faster than their silicon counterparts. Graphene transistors are also significantly smaller, which makes electronics more efficient.
Graphene semiconductors are the next frontier until quantum computing arrives
Since transistors are the basic building blocks of everything from processors to displays, graphene will allow further miniaturization of electronics. This should make smartphones, televisions, and other consumer products significantly cheaper and more powerful. Ongoing research on graphene semiconductors could potentially replace existing technology for computer chips, while also serving as a stop-gap between the limitations of current silicon-based processors and quantum computing.
Graphene's properties can improve the durability, practicality of foldable displays
Samsung's teething troubles with its foldable phones are well-publicized, but graphene's uncanny transparency allows it to transmit up to 97.7% of light while still being conductive. This allows it to replace the indium tin oxide (ITO) used in existing implementations. Graphene's superior conductivity, strength, and transparency make it ideal to replace ITO, which can significantly improve both foldable displays and wearable electronics.
Displays can finally make the jump from foldable to wearable
Because graphene can render displays incredibly thin, flexible, and strong while also exhibiting amazing bendability, it is the final piece of the puzzle that will make rollable and foldable displays rugged and practical compared to current fragile implementations. From paper-thin displays to clothes that can make the wearer blend into the surroundings, thanks to the optoelectronic properties of graphene — the applications are limitless.
How about smartphone chassis harnessing light to recharge the battery?
Graphene's extremely low absorption of white light combined with high electron mobility makes it an efficient photovoltaic cell while being cheaper and more durable than existing solar panels. Moreover, while silicon generates a single electron for every photon absorbed, graphene generates many more. This makes for solar cells that are thin, flexible, and light enough to be integrated into clothing or serve as smartphone chassis.
Graphene can make existing batteries more durable and efficient
Graphene can also improve the single largest limiting factor for mobile devices and electric cars—traditional battery technology. Simply introducing graphene electrodes to existing lithium-ion batteries increases their capacity by ten times, speeds up recharging, and makes them last longer between charges while also increasing their durability. This technology is expected to be commercialized relatively sooner and could improve everything from smartphones to electric cars.
However, the real killer graphene application is supercapacitors
While graphene-enhanced batteries are great, the real killer application involves supercapacitors. These power electronics are like normal batteries but charge within a fraction of a second like traditional capacitors. The limited energy density of current supercapacitors significantly limits their backup duration. However, the large surface area of the two-dimensional carbon allotrope allows it to deliver enough energy density to make supercapacitors viable as batteries.
Creating thin and light smartphones that are virtually indestructible
According to research conducted by James Hone of Columbia University, "It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap." To be more precise, graphene is 200 times stronger than steel by weight, while sporting ten times its impact resistance. The upshot is essentially thinner, lighter smartphones that can still be virtually indestructible.
Graphene needs more R&D before it can be commercially viable
Graphene's unique physical structure allows it to exhibit an uncanny amount of strength, flexibility, and durability while exhibiting impressive electrical conductivity and low weight. While research on the material has been ongoing since the early 2000s, synthesizing it cheaply at scale still remains a significant roadblock precluding its implementation in commercial products. Meaningful consumer applications are still estimated to be five to ten years away.