Improving the graphene fibre’s strength is Gao’s next goal. His first-generation fibres have some structural imperfections, which compromises mechanical performance. “At the moment, the mechanical strength can’t compete with carbon fibres, but we believe that the mechanical properties can be greatly improved.”
However, strength is not necessarily needed if the fibres are to be used primarily for their electrical properties. Hua Zhang, who studies graphene synthesis at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, says that the fibres “will definitely have some applications — maybe for touch panels, for sensors or for functional textiles”.
A graphene oxide fibre measuring four metres long was wound on to this Teflon drum. CHAO GAO
Graphene fibres could offer some advantages: carbon nanotubes are notoriously difficult to make in a pure form, which compromises the performance of the final product, and making carbon fibre is an expensive, high-energy process.
“Carbon fibre is made by a high-temperature treatment. Our fibres are made just by spinning a water-based solution — it is quite green and quite easy,” says Gao.
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