Graphene: Flexible, Wearable, Ultrathin, Ultrapowerful Electronic Substrate

Graphene is a single-layer of carbon atoms bound together in a chemical pattern. It can have 300 times the strength of steel, and significantly more conductive ability than today’s semiconductors. And, being made of carbon atoms, it can be produced from abundant resources at what may someday be very low prices.

The result: flexible, wearable, ultrathin electronics, based on a substrate that functions as framework, computational circuitry and hard shell, all at once. Electronic devices are expected to be able to reach efficiency levels far beyond what is now possible, as extraneous, non-active material is eschewed and graphene serves all these diverse purposes.

One expected application is the creation of miniature devices far more powerful than today’s smart phones. A translucent credit card-sized device, for instance, with back-sensitive touchscreen (allowing more precision, as one’s finger doesn’t obscure the point of contact, and more precision means less time wasted, more efficient use of battery life, etc.), which could serve to replace nearly all print-outs, ticket-stubs, etc.

Others view graphene as being the single most necessary ingredient to fabricating truly paper-thin, flexible, interactive e-paper: a kind of paper-thin iPad, full color and interactive, with optional luminescence, but with the paper-and-ink fixed surface visibility of an Amazon Kindle.

And, there is a green value to graphene: aside from incentivizing the shift away from the burning of carbon-based resources, and the expected reduction in the need for “rare earth” minerals to power smart devices, the ultra-lightweight quality of graphene-based devices will allow for much more efficient use of energy and a radical reduction in the energy required to power the technology that navigates our everyday lives.

Of course, there is another risk, which is the industrial age’s temptation to overdo everything, to overproduce, overexpend, overextract, overdistribute: but graphene’s smart structure will not only allow for the possibility of economizing and making great efficiency gains, it will make it much easier to do the computation needed to track such questions effectively, and program adjustments into any given smart infrastructure (personal life, business, local or regional).

Graphene is one of the technologies competing for two Future and Emerging Technologies prizes of 1 billion € each. Its development is being aided by a range of industries that stand to benefit greatly from such a paradigm shift, and innovators across the world should be thinking about how best to apply such a solution to cutting-edge design in their field.

Here at the Hot Spring Network, we are launching a debate on the Zero-combustion potential of graphene: How can it be used to so dramatically increase energy efficiency and speed the development of clean energy resources that we can be fossil-fuel free by 2030?

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Originally published May 21, 2011, at

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