A super-stretchable yarn made of graphene

June 25, 2014

Strong, stretchable fibers made of graphene oxide can be knotted like yarn (credit: Terrones group/Penn State)

A simple, scalable method of making strong, stretchable graphene oxide fibers that are easily scrolled into yarns and have strengths approaching that of Kevlar is possible, according to Penn State and Shinshu University, Japan, researchers.

“We found this graphene oxide fiber was very strong, much better than other carbon fibers,” said Mauricio Terrones, professor of physics, chemistry and materials science and engineering, Penn State. “We believe that pockets of air inside the fiber keep it from being brittle.”

This method opens up multiple possibilities for useful products, according to Terrones and colleagues. For instance, removing oxygen from the graphene oxide fiber results in a fiber with high electrical conductivity.

Adding silver nanorods to the graphene film would increase the conductivity to the same as copper, which could make it a much lighter weight replacement for copper transmission lines. The researchers believe that the material lends itself to many kinds of highly sensitive sensors.

The researchers made a thin film of graphene oxide by chemically exfoliating graphite into graphene flakes, which were then mixed with water and concentrated by centrifugation into a thick slurry. The slurry was then spread by bar coating — something like a squeegee — across a large plate. When the slurry dries, it becomes a large-area transparent film that can be carefully lifted off without tearing. The film is then cut into narrow strips and wound on itself with an automatic fiber scroller, resulting in a fiber that can be knotted and stretched without fracturing. The researchers reported their results in a recent issue of ACSNano.

“The importance is that we can do almost any material, and that could open up many avenues — it’s a lightweight material with multifunctional properties,” said Terrones. And the main ingredient, graphite, is mined and sold by the ton.”

Penn State and Shinshu University have applied for a joint patent on the process.

The researchers received support from the Research Center for Exotic Nanocarbons, Japan, and the Center for Nanoscale Science, Penn State.

Abstract of ACS Nano paper

Graphene oxide (GO) has recently become an attractive building block for fabricating graphene-based functional materials. GO films and fibers have been prepared mainly by vacuum filtration and wet spinning. These materials exhibit relatively high Young’s moduli but low toughness and a high tendency to tear or break. Here, we report an alternative method, using bar coating and drying of water/GO dispersions, for preparing large-area GO thin films (e.g., 800–1200 cm2 or larger) with an outstanding mechanical behavior and excellent tear resistance. These dried films were subsequently scrolled to prepare GO fibers with extremely large elongation to fracture (up to 76%), high toughness (up to 17 J/m3), and attractive macroscopic properties, such as uniform circular cross section, smooth surface, and great knotability. This method is simple, and after thermal reduction of the GO material, it can render highly electrically conducting graphene-based fibers with values up to 416 S/cm at room temperature. In this context, GO fibers annealed at 2000 °C were also successfully used as electron field emitters operating at low turn on voltages of ca. 0.48 V/μm and high current densities (5.3 A/cm2). Robust GO fibers and large-area films with fascinating architectures and outstanding mechanical and electrical properties were prepared with bar coating followed by dry film scrolling.