When in 2004 graphene was separated from graphite for the first time, a large number of wideranging possibilities were imagined. Since then, this material has become one of the most exciting topics within the materials sector and it has stimulated a vast amount of research. In this sense, there is no doubt that graphene is a very important discovery as can be demonstrated by the number of publications.

The interest in this material lies not only in its distinctive structure, which is a one-atom-thick planar sheet densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice, but also in its special characteristics. Considered to be the most important properties of graphene are quantum Hall effect, ambipolar electric field effect along with ballistic conduction of charge carriers, tunable gap and high elasticity. In fact, the single graphene layer is a semi-metal or zero-gap semiconductor and has excellent electronic properties. The electron mobility of graphene is very high; conducting electricity faster than any other substance at room temperature. Moreover, graphene is even harder than diamond and about 100 times stronger than the best steel in the world. Therefore, due to its excellent properties, graphene is a potential candidate for use in high performance nanoelectronic devices, composite materials, field emission materials, molecular sensors, artificial muscle actuators, energy storage areas, etc

Graphene Reinforced Polymers

Graphene reinforced polymers have been demonstrated at lab scale in both Europe and the USA, and it has been shown that very low loadings of graphene can have a dramatic impact on the mechanical and physical properties of the polymers it is added to.

Addition of 5% graphene doubles the mechanical properties of TPO and PP and a tensile modulus increase of 80% was seen when 1% by weight of graphene was compounded with PMMA.

Moulding Methods

Injection moulding, extrusion blow moulding and film extrusion are all well-established moulding methods for producing parts at very high throughputs. Compounds and masterbatches are commonly used in these processes, and the graphene reinforced thermoplastic compounds and masterbatches will simply fit into the existing manufacturing chain, enabling the functionality of these materials to be applied to high volume components.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies such as machining. The biggest advantage of additive manufacturing is the flexibility in the production due to a tool free process, which also reduces the costs and the time to market of new products. Due to the layered nature of the part generation, additive manufacturing can deliver unique materials, structures and properties.

Health & Environmental Impacts of Nanomaterials

At the current time, not enough is known about the exposure routes, health effects, environmental impacts and control measures of nanoparticles in general, or graphene particles in particular, to draw firm conclusions. However, there are many current activities investigating these issues.

In general, there are 3 main exposure routes for humans – inhalation, dermal and ingestion. A recent review on human toxicology and nanomaterials found that inhalation and ingestion are likely to be more significant than dermal exposure and recommended further studies on specific nanoparticles.

Regarding graphene specifically, no toxicological data has been found regarding inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure, workplace exposure measurements or environmental effects, most likely because commercial producers are reluctant to publicise their individual findings when their competitors do not.