Researchers have found a way to turn cheap, everyday cooking oil into the wonder material graphene – a technique that could greatly reduce the cost of making the much-touted nanomaterial. Graphene is a single sheet of carbon atoms with incredible properties – it’s 200 times stronger than steel, harder than diamond, and incredibly flexible. Under certain conditions, it can even be turned into a superconductor that carries electricity with zero resistance. That means the material has the potential to make better electronics, more effective solar cells, and could even be used in medicine. Last year, a study suggested that graphene could help mobile phone batteries last 25 percent longer, and the material has the potential to filter fuel out of thin air. But these applications have been limited by the fact that graphene usually has to be made in a vacuum at intense heat using purified ingredients, which makes it expensive to produce. Until we can find a cost-effective way to mass produce the over-achieving material, it’s pretty much limited to labs. But scientists in Australia have now managed to create graphene in normal air conditions, using cheap soybean cooking oil. “This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” said one of the researchers, Zhao Jun Han from Australia’s CSIRO. “Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications.” The team has called the new technique ‘GraphAir’ technology, and it involves heating soybean oil in a tube furnace for about 30 minutes, causing it to decompose into carbon building blocks. This carbon is then rapidly cooled on a foil made of nickel, where it diffuses into a thin rectangle of graphene that’s just 1 nanometre thick (about 80,000 times thinner than a human hair). Not only is this technique cheaper and easier than other methods, it’s also a lot quicker – to create graphene in a vacuum takes several hours.
Read More: Futurism