A new light bulb that is 10 % more efficient than LED, lasts longer, is cheaper and is more recyclable, will mark the beginning of the commercial utilisation of the new wonder material graphene. It is produced by Graphene Lighting PLC which is a partner of the NGI (National Graphene Institute), the research institute at Manchester University which is working on the commercial application of graphene technology and currently partners with 35 companies.
Commercial use of graphene is the aim of intense academic and industrial research throughout the world with many institutions reporting that they have products such as flexible, transparent video screens and graphene based tennis rackets in advanced stages of development. However, large scale production of graphene technology remains elusive. Although graphene is produced in basically two ways, epitaxial or "bottom-up" growth and exfoliation or "top-down" methods, there are a great many varieties within these categories and new ways of integrating the resulting filaments into other structures are being invented all the time. Over 200 patents have already been granted world wide for graphene production processes, which is remarkable for an industry still in its infancy.
Graphene production processes that are cheap, environmentally friendly and energy efficient are still some way off and will require many advances in the applied sciences of physics and chemistry. Graphene based FET transistor based ICs are a much discussed topic in this field, but despite the first paper on this subject being published in 2004 (not long after the discovery of graphene itself), some researchers do not expect to see graphene FET based products for another 20 years. The "band gap" problem as it is known requires graphene transistors to have very precise edges. Although this can currently be done with a precision of about 1nm this is not enough to prevent scattering effects that reduce the band gap, as does the current quality of the join between the ribbon and the substrate it sits on. These are hard problems to solve if the quality has to improved until the ribbon edges are aligned to a near atomic level of precision
The possible uses of graphene in the development of space technology are limitless, with a possible graphene based lubricant being identified recently as particularly suitable for use in space - due to excellent thermal stability and tribological properties (basically the dynamics of how the lubricant interacts with solid surfaces and causes wear) etc, and these appear to be maintained even when test samples were used in a simulated space environment including prolonged irradiation.
A novel form of spacecraft propulsion has already been proposed which involves directing lasers at a surface made of "graphene sponge" - a fusion of crumpled graphene oxide sheets. The laser light causes a build up of negative charge on the surface resulting in electrons being energetically expelled from the surface in the opposite direction to the laser beam. This apparently creates a force much greater than that of a conventional light pressure sail. There would be a need for a source of electrons to replace those lost, which could perhaps be provided by harvesting the solar wind using a copper coil of the type proposed for Dyson-Harrop power satellites. In interstellar space, there are probably free electrons which could be used if the craft were moving fast enough. Interstellar hydrogen could also be used perhaps to augment light pressure propulsion, particularly at lower speeds in the interstellar cruise. At higher speeds it might be more useful as a power generator which could offset some of the drag on the vessel and boost propulsion by accelerating protons that pass through long coil structures along the longitudinal axis of the vessel.