Opinion: A Future Made of Graphene?


Rachel Godin is a junior magazine journalism major and columnist for The Daily Kent Stater.  Contact her at [email protected]  

Rachel Godin

The expansion of consumer culture paints a bleak portrait of a brakeless locomotive racing towards a forked rail line. Consumer expansion has become a visual sign of economic success, a major source of both industrial production and employment and a key mode of legitimation. According to Mike Featherstone, author of “Consumer Culture and Postmodernism,” “Curbing consumption is not a popular option which means politicians seek out ‘technological fix’ solutions, which will allow the economy to proceed at full speed, but somehow clean up or recycle pollution and waste.” That’s where nanotechnology steps in — the locomotive switchgear navigating us away from doom.

Desperate to find some reprieve, or at least personal peace of mind, many consumers worldwide have decided to institute more sustainable lifestyles. Although this alone will not be enough, scientists have made an incredible discovery. Assuming you haven’t heard mention of graphene before, here is an introduction to what many are calling the wonder material of the 21st century.

Nanotechnology is, simply put, when scientists move around atoms at the molecular level in order to create combinations and reactions that can help improve society. Important scientific findings are patented and sold for commercial use.

Graphene is the first two-dimensional crystal material ever developed. Its one, atom-thick honeycomb lattice seems to contradict natural law by exhibiting many enigmatic characteristics. Graphene is 300 times stronger than steel, harder than diamond and the lightest material ever obtained. It is transparent, flexible and conducts electricity more efficiently than any other known material, yet is so dense that no gas can pass through it.

There are two major clean technological breakthroughs that suggest graphene is the thoroughfare by which sustainable consumption will quickly become monetarily accessible and easily applicable in the not-so-distant future.

Solar panels are expensive because of the high cost of platinum (their key ingredient), but when researchers at Michigan Tech University replaced platinum with graphene, nearly identical amounts of sunlight were converted to storable energy. According to Renewable Energy World online, physicists from the University of Florida were able to increase the efficiency of solar cells to 8.6 percent and believe that reaching 10 percent efficiency would make graphene solar panels commercially competitive. Imagine the sustainable effect when ultra-cheap, ultra-efficient, even wearable solar panels are on the sides of buildings and available on the mainstream market.

Graphene’s impermeability to standard gases will create cleaner transportation. Energy-efficient filters that enhance natural gas productions and new automobile exhaust pipes that reduce carbon dioxide automobile are among the many possibilities circulating in the engineering communities.

Graphene has the potential to change technology and mass production forever. As exciting as it might be to know that Samsung has already invested huge amounts into manufacturing meter-wide rolls of the flexible phone material, it is important to remember that we are responsible for the consequences of our consumer behavior. It is a wonderful paradox that the environment we abuse is the very source that gives us the organic material it needs to heal.