Gaining widespread acceptance for a new material can be a slow process. But that’s not been the case with graphene, which appears to be on a fast track to adoption in the composites industry.

Graphene, first produced less than two decades ago, is the thinnest known material. For commercial purposes, it’s defined as one to 10 layers of sp2 carbon-bonded atoms in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice. Graphene is 100 to 300 times stronger than steel, making it the strongest material ever measured. When incorporated into an FRP composite material, a miniscule amount of graphene can make a substantial difference in its properties.

“We have comparative studies where the load factor for graphene goes from .9% to .5% to .01% that still makes a 35% to 45% improvement in the mechanical properties of the composite,” says Terrance Barkan, executive director of The Graphene Council, which is leading efforts to encourage the use of graphene for commercial applications.

A Classification Framework

Initially there was only one way to produce graphene, but today there are more than a dozen manufacturing processes that use feedstocks ranging from graphite and carbon-bearing gases to biochar, oil and coal. This has increased graphene’s availability but has also caused confusion for some potential users. There’s been no effective way for them to differentiate among graphene products from various producers.

The Graphene Council has developed and recently released a solution – the Graphene Classification Framework.

“The framework is a consistent, generic way of describing any form of graphene material using approximately 19 key characteristics that are relevant for commercial applications,” Barkan explains. For example, one graphene product might be described as a mechanically exfoliated graphite, three to five layers in thickness, that is non-oxidized and non-functionalized.

“It’s not a replacement for the full characterization, but having that descriptor gives you a pretty good idea of what material you’re dealing with,” he adds.

The framework provides a template for a technical data sheet that producers can fill out to provide in-depth characterization of their graphene.

Equipped with this information, companies interested in using graphene will be able to find multiple sources for specific types of graphene material and have confidence that all the products will have consistent properties and characteristics. In addition, the Graphene Classification Framework will enable health and safety regulatory agencies, which must approve graphene’s use, to differentiate among various types of the material.