Rumored to have been first discovered in 1962, graphene was rediscovered in 2004 at the University of Manchester. Years went by and the researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. Now, graphene has gained steam as a wonder material.
Most commonly used in electronics, semiconductors, and electric batteries, graphene also has a use in construction. In this blog post, we will be listing some of the ways this new nanomaterial could revolutionize the construction world.
What is Graphene?
First, let’s discuss what graphene actually is. Made of pure carbon atoms that are formed into a honeycomb structure, graphene is the world’s thinnest material.
At only one atom thick, it is also the strongest material in the world. As a professor at Columbia University put it, “it would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap”.
Graphene is also about 200 times harder than steel, while being 6 times lighter than steel. Clearly, this is a new discovery with a lot of potential.
Uses In Construction
Graphene has seen a ton of use in electronics, mainly due to the fact that it is more conductive than copper. Here are some ways civil engineers and architects could use graphene.
As an Additive to Concrete
This might be where graphene ends up shining the most. Concrete is notoriously hard on the environment. Researchers are constantly hunting for ways to reduce the amount of concrete we use. Graphene could be the answer.
Research has shown that graphene excels as an additive to concrete. By adding graphene to concrete, you can reduce the amount of concrete used while keeping the strength wildly high.
The addition of graphene could make for a better concrete product. The strength is increased by up to 30 percent. Concrete with graphene added has a high water resistance and thermal conductance. This equals fewer cracks and concrete that lasts longer and needs less maintenance.
Highly Efficient Insulation
One interested product being developed is Graphene Aerogel. This is the lightest and most efficient thermal insulation that has ever been developed. It is lighter than air and can balance on a single blade of grass.
Work will need to be done to bring down the cost of this insulation down before it can be widely adopted. Currently, it costs around $200 for a 3 cm3 block of graphene aerogel.
Graphene Composite to Replace Steel
Graphene composite materials could have a future replacing steel in designs. The Hydra Skyscraper was designed in 2011 and relies largely on graphene.
The design uses graphene because of hits high thermal and electrical conductivity, and its extreme hardness. The Hydra Skyscraper design also includes the ability to capture and store energy from thunderstorms.
One Drawback: Too Brittle on Its Own
Researchers from Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology found that graphene can’t be used structurally on its own. Owing to the fact that it is incredibly brittle, we won’t be seeing structures made from 100% graphene.
The research steam found that one tiny crack can quickly turn into a shattered graphene sheet. They created tiny cracks with ion beams and then pulled on the graphene sheet. The graphene sheet reacted similarly to a pane of glass with the cracks expanding quickly.