For more than a decade, scientists have been trying to synthesize a new form of carbon known as graphene, but with no success. But researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have finally succeeded in creating an elusive allotrope of carbon. This research fills a long-standing gap in carbon materials science and opens up entirely new possibilities for electronics, optics and semiconductor research.
The researchers documented their process in a study titled “Synthesis of -graphene Using Dynamic Covalent Chemistry” published in Nature Synthesis.
The element’s versatility and utility in a variety of industries have led to scientists having a long-standing interest in the creation of various carbon allotropes (forms).
Carbon allotropes can be constructed in a variety of ways, depending on how the carbon hybrids and their respective bonds are used. The most famous such allotments include the graphite used in pencils and diamonds. They are formed from the ‘sp2’ carbon and the ‘sp3’ carbon, respectively.
Scientists have used traditional methods over the years to create various such allotropes, including fullerenes and graphene. Researchers working on these materials were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 and 2010, respectively.
But unfortunately, these methods do not allow to simultaneously synthesize different types of carbon in any kind of large capacity and this is necessary to make graphene. Because of this constraint, graphene remained a theoretical material predicted to have unique electrical, mechanical and optical properties.
Researchers in the field contacted research article co-author Wei Zhang and his laboratory group. Zhang is a professor of chemistry at CU Boulder and studies reversible chemistry. The reversible chemistry allows the bonds to be sold-right, thus opening up possibilities for creating new types of ‘lattice’ (ordered structures) such as synthetic polymers similar to DNA.
The team used a process called alkyne metathesis, along with thermodynamics and kinetic control, to create a new kind of material that can rival the conductivity of graphene, but with control. Alkyne metathesis refers to an organic reaction that involves the redistribution (cutting and forming) of alkene chemical bonds. Alkynes are hydrocarbons that contain at least one carbon-carbon triple covalent bond.
The content has been created successfully. But the team still needs to look into many more details, including how to build it at scale and how to manipulate it for various different use cases. These efforts will help further explore the material’s electrical and optical properties, allowing it to be used in applications such as lithium-ion batteries.