There’s a new way to 3D print graphene, the strongest material on Earth

new way 3d printing graphene printed
Virginia Tech, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

With its incredible strength and potentially miraculous applications, there is a lot to be enthusiastic about when it comes to graphene. But it’s one thing to show off these possibilities in a lab; another entirely to turn it into something that’s usable in real-world situations. That’s something that researchers from Virginia Tech University and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have been working to change. In the process, they have found a way of combining two of the most promising buzzwords in tech — “graphene” and “3D printing” — to open up a world of new exciting possibilities.

“We have been able to achieve 3D graphene aerogels and foams with arbitrary form factors and 3D features,” Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng, an assistant professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech, told Digital Trends. “We formulated and printed light-sensitive graphene precursors that is compatible with a desktop SLA printer. This opens up freedom to realize 3D graphene with any topology co-optimized mechanical properties, hierarchical pore sizes, surface areas, [and] conductivities for a host array of applications.”

Regular graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-style hexagonal lattice pattern. If graphene is packed, layer on layer, it becomes graphite: A material most commonly used as the “lead” in ordinary pencils. Now we love pencils as much as the next person, but anyone who has ever had a pencil lead snap on them may have a hard time believing this is one of the strongest materials on the planet. That’s because of the way that it is packed together, which fundamentally alters the structure of graphene.

The researchers on this project circumvented that by separating the individual sheets of graphene with air-filled pores, thereby allowing it to maintain its properties. The 3D-printable material that emerges at the end is something called graphene aerogel.

“Graphene aerogels are promising for a number of applications — including energy storage and conversion, catalysis, sorbents, and desalination,” Marcus Worsley, an LLNL researcher on the project, told us. “Recent work has shown some performance improvements for simple 3D-printed structures, but more complex, computer-generated architectures are predicted to be vastly superior. These gains should translate to devices that are more powerful, efficient, and longer lasting. This is the major thrust of our current and future work in this area.”

It may be some time before we are 3D printing with graphene in our home offices, but this still represents an enormous step in that direction.

“With regards to commercialization, we are always happy to work with potential commercial partners to bring our inventions to market,” Worsley continued. A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Materials Horizon.

Emerging Tech

San Francisco won the battle, but the war on facial-recognition has just begun

San Francisco has become the first city in America to ban facial recognition. Well, kind of. While the ruling only covers certain applications, it's nonetheless vitally important. Here's why.

How Nissan’s ‘invisible-to-visible’ tech could pave the way for autonomous cars

Nissan is experimenting with what it calls “invisible-to-visible” (I2V) tech. It’s meant to connect cars to a virtual world, but will it work in the real world? That’s what we asked Nissan’s Roel de Vries.
Emerging Tech

Soaring on air currents like birds could let drones fly for significantly longer

Birds are sometimes able to glide by catching rising air currents, known as thermals. This energy-saving technique could also be used by drones to allow them to remain airborne longer.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Wake-up lights and countertop clothes dryers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Google wants to map the world's air quality. Here's how.

For the past several years, a growing number of Google’s Street View cars have been doing more than just taking photos. They’ve also been measuring air quality. Here's why that's so important.

Volkswagen is launching a full range of EVs, but it doesn’t want to be Tesla

Volkswagen is preparing to release the 2020 ID.3 - an electric, Golf-sized model developed for Europe. It sheds insight into the brand's future EVs, including ones built and sold in the United States.
Emerging Tech

Get ready to waste your day with this creepily accurate text-generating A.I.

Remember the text-generating A.I. created by research lab OpenA.I. that was supposedly too dangerous to release to the public? Well, someone just released a version of it. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Think your kid might have an ear infection? This app can confirm it

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new A.I.-powered smartphone app that’s able to listen for ear infections with a high level of accuracy. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX calls off Starlink launch just 15 minutes before liftoff

High winds above Cape Canaveral on Wednesday night forced SpaceX to postpone the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in a mission that would have marked the first major deployment of the company’s Starlink internet satellites.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX scraps second effort to launch 60 Starlink satellites

Wednesday's planned SpaceX launch of 60 Starlink satellites was pushed back due to bad weather. Thursday's launch has also been postponed, so the company said it will try again next week.
Emerging Tech

UV-activated superglue could literally help to heal broken hearts

Scientists at China's Zhejiang University have developed a UV-activated adhesive glue that is capable of efficiently healing damage to organs, including the heart. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

USC’s penny-sized robotic bee is the most sci-fi thing you’ll see all week

Engineers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have built a bee-inspired robot that weighs just 95 grams and is smaller than a penny. Check it out in action here.
Emerging Tech

Purdue’s robotic hummingbird is nearly as nimble as the real thing

A team of engineers in Purdue University’s Bio-Robotics Lab have developed an impressively agile flying robot, modeled after the hummingbird. Check it out in all its robotic hovering glory.
Emerging Tech

Watch this drone dodge an incoming soccer ball autonomously

Most drones aren't very good at avoiding incoming objects. But now a team from the University of Zurich has developed a drone which can dodge, swoop, and dive to avoid an incoming football.