A scientific breakthrough with the world’s strongest material could have an impact on the cost of solar panels and other sustainable building technologies.

The CSIRO is reporting that it has discovered a way to make graphene, a carbon material used in applications ranging from miniaturise electronics to biomedical devices, more commercially viable by changing its production process.

To date, graphene has been grown in highly-controlled environments requiring sophisticated explosive compressed gases under long hours of operation at high temperatures, and extensive vacuum processing.

But this could change thanks to new “Graph Air” technology, developed by the CSIRO with the help of Australian universities, which grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.

“This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han, co-author of the paper published last week in Nature Communications  said.

“Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications.”

It also gets better when you consider that Graph Air uses soybean oil – a renewable, natural material – in the process.

With heat, soybean oil breaks down into a range of carbon building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene.

The team also transformed other types of renewables and even waste oil, such as those leftover from barbecues or cooking, into graphene films.

“We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” CSIRO scientist and co-author of the study Dr Dong Han Seo said.

The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine, to name a few.

Graphene has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties as well.

Its uses range from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels.

CSIRO are looking to partner with industry to find new uses for graphene.

Researchers from The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and The Queensland University of Technology also contributed to this work.

News via. CSIRO