Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have successfully 3D printed a graphene compound block, creating one of the strongest materials ever.
The material is 5 per cent the weight of steel but 10 times as strong.
The blocks, made of reconstituted graphene flakes, form a porous web from a very light super-strong material.
Until now pioneering research on Graphene, which was discovered at the University of Manchester in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, has only created two-dimensional sheets, from a width of one atom. Now the researchers at MIT have successfully used heat and pressure to reform the flakes of graphene into three dimensional blocks.
Three-dimensional graphene opens a vast field of applications, include super-strong construction materials, building space vehicles and submersibles that need to withstand high pressures, and as water and air filters.
Because the material is carbon based it is mechanically and structurally stable. Skyscrapers, bridges and towers currently built from steel could be strengthened to withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.
Markus Buehler, Head of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, said: “[Graphene] was not very useful for making 3-D materials that could be used in vehicles, buildings, or devices. What we’ve done is to realise the wish of translating these 2-D materials into three-dimensional structures.”
Buehler said that the 3-D graphene material, which is composed of curved surfaces under deformation, resembles sheets of paper.
MIT's gyroid three-dimensional graphene
Paper has little strength along its length and width, and can be easily crumpled up. But when made into certain shapes, for example rolled into a tube, suddenly the strength along the length of the tube is much greater and can support substantial weight. Similarly, the geometric arrangement of the graphene flakes after treatment form a very strong configuration.
The new configurations have been made in the lab using a high-resolution, multimaterial 3D printer. They were mechanically tested for their tensile and compressive properties, and their mechanical response under loading was simulated using the team’s theoretical models. The results from the experiments and simulations matched accurately.
Buehler added: “You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers or metals, to gain similar advantages of strength combined with advantages in cost, processing methods, or other material properties (such as transparency or electrical conductivity).”