Engineers have developed a simple method for producing high-quality graphene that can be used in next-generation electronic and energy devices. The method essentially bakes the compound in a microwave oven.
Graphene — 100 times tougher than steel — conducts electricity better than copper and rapidly dissipates heat, making it useful for many applications. Large-scale production of graphene is necessary for applications such as printable electronics, electrodes for batteries, and catalysts for fuel cells.
Graphene comes from graphite, which consists of sheets or layers of graphene. The easiest way to make large quantities of graphene is to exfoliate graphite into individual graphene sheets using chemicals. The downside of this approach is that side reactions occur with oxygen — forming graphene oxide that is electrically non-conducting, which makes it less useful for products.
Removing oxygen from graphene oxide to obtain high-quality graphene has been a major challenge over the past two decades for the scientific community working on graphene. Oxygen distorts the pristine atomic structure of graphene and degrades its properties. Baking the exfoliated graphene oxide for just one second in a 1,000-Watt microwave oven, like those used in households, can eliminate virtually all of the oxygen from graphene oxide.