Navigating the graphene maze: health, environment and innovation

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graphene health and environment

The Graphene Flagship initiative investigated the health and environmental effects of graphene (blue) and related materials. Color scanning electron microscope. Credit: Empa

The largest EU research initiative ever launched has been successfully concluded. The Graphene Flagship was officially signed late last year. Empa researchers also participated, including molecular biologist Peter Wick. He has been involved in the Health and Environment work package since its inception and has just summarized the research findings in this area with his international colleagues in a comprehensive review article in a professional journal. ACS nano.

Think big. Despite the research topic, this may be the motto of his graphene flagship, launched in 2013. With a total budget of €1 billion, this was Europe’s largest research initiative to date, along with the human brain flagship launched in 2013. It’s the same time. The same goes for review articles about the effects of . graphene Related materials on health and environment. Empa researchers Peter Wick and Tina Bürki, along with 30 international colleagues, have just published in the scientific journal ACS Nano. The 57 pages summarize research on the health and ecological risks of graphene materials, and the reference list includes approximately 500 original publications.

A wealth of knowledge makes everything clear. “We investigated the potential acute effects of various graphene and graphene-like materials on the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and placenta, and we did not observe significant acute cell-damaging effects in any of our studies,” Wick said. states in summary. result. A stress response can certainly occur in lung cells, but the tissue recovers fairly quickly. But some of his newer 2D materials, such as boron nitride, transition metal dichalcogenides, phosphenes, and MXenes (see information box), are still less explored, he points out. Further investigation was required here.

In their analysis, Wick et al. looked not just at newly produced graphene-like materials, but also at the entire lifecycle of various applications of graphene-containing materials. In other words, they investigated questions such as: What happens when these materials wear out or burn? Are graphene particles released? Can this fine dust harm cells, tissues, or the environment?

One example: Adding a few percent of graphene to polymers such as epoxies and polyamides can significantly improve material properties such as mechanical stability and electrical conductivity, but wear particles Does not cause specific nanotoxic effects. . Wick’s team will be able to continue this research after its flagship project ends thanks to funding from the European Union as part of the so-called Spearhead project, of which Wick is deputy director.

In addition to Wick’s team, Empa researchers led by Bernd Navac will use material flow analysis as part of the Graphene Flagship to calculate the potential future environmental impact of graphene-containing materials. and modeled which ecosystems are likely to be affected and to what extent. Roland Hischier’s team, along with Nowak and colleagues at Empa’s Institute for Technology and Society, are using life cycle assessments to investigate the environmental sustainability of different manufacturing methods and applications of different graphene-containing materials. did. And Roman Fasel’s team at Empa’s nanotech @ surfaces laboratory has advanced the development of electronic components based on his thin graphene ribbons.

Key graphene initiatives in numbers

“Graphene Flagship” efforts seen in numbers. Credit: Empa

European success stories in research and innovation

Launched in 2013, the Graphene Flagship represents an entirely new form of co-coordinated research at an unprecedented scale. The aim of this large-scale project is to bring together researchers from research institutions and industry to bring graphene-based applications from the laboratory to the market within 10 years, thereby driving economic growth and new It was about creating jobs and new opportunities. technology. Over its 10-year existence, this consortium consisted of more than 150 academic and industrial research teams in 23 countries and numerous associated members.

Last September, the 10-year fundraising period ended with Graphene Week in Gothenburg, Sweden. The final report provides an impressive demonstration of the success of this ambitious and large-scale project. The flagship has “spawned” approximately 5,000 scientific publications and over 80 patents. Established 17 spin-off companies in the graphene field and raised a total of over 130 million euros in venture capital. According to a study by the German economic research institute WifOR, the Graphene Flagship has generated a total of approximately 5.9 billion euros in added value for participating countries and created more than 80,000 new jobs in Europe. This means that the impact of the Graphene Flagship will be more than 10 times greater than short-term EU projects.

peter wick

Empa researcher Peter Wick has been involved in the ‘Work Package Health and Environment’ from the beginning. Credit: Empa

During the course of this project, Empa received a total of approximately CHF 3 million in funding. As Peter Wick highlights, this had a “catalytic” effect. “We have almost tripled this amount through follow-up projects totaling approximately CHF 5.5 million.” This includes further EU projects, projects funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and industrial It includes projects in direct collaboration with partners, all of which have taken place over the past five years. ”

But the benefits of such projects go far beyond generous funding, Wick stresses. On the one hand, it has spawned numerous new collaborations and project ideas. On the other hand, there is a completely different quality to working with international partners for such a long period of time, we trust each other almost blindly. And such well-coordinated teams are much more efficient and produce better scientific results,” Wick believes. Last but not least, many personal friendships were formed.

New dimensions: graphene and other 2D materials

Graphene is a very promising material. Composed of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, it has exceptional properties such as exceptional mechanical strength, flexibility, transparency, and excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. When an already two-dimensional material is made more spatially confined, for example into a thin ribbon, it can produce controllable quantum effects. This could potentially enable a wide range of applications, from vehicle manufacturing to energy storage. quantum computing.

For a long time, this “miracle substance” existed only in theory. It wasn’t until 2004 that physicists Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim from the University of Manchester were able to specifically produce and characterize graphene. To do this, the researchers used adhesive tape to remove the layers of graphite until only one piece remained. atom thick. They won his 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for this research.

Since then, graphene has been the subject of intensive research. In the meantime, researchers have discovered many more 2D materials, including graphene, which is derived from graphene. acid, graphene oxide, and cyanographs, which have potential medical applications. Researchers hope to use inorganic 2D materials such as boron nitride and MXene to build more powerful batteries, develop electronic components, and improve other materials.

Reference: “Environmental and health impacts of graphene and other two-dimensional materials: A graphene flagship perspective” Hazel Lin, Tina Buerki-Thurnherr, Jasreen Kaur, Peter Wick, Marco Pelin, Aurelia Tubaro, Fabio Candotto Carniel, Written by Mauro Tretiach, Emmanuel Flaau, Daniel Iglesias, Estelle Vázquez, Giada Cerotto, Laura Ballerini, Valentina Castagnola, Fabio Benfenati, Andrea Almirotti, Antoine Salstrau, Frédéric Taran, Mathilde Keck , Cyril Bussy, Sandra Vranic, Kostas Costalleros, Mona Connolly, José María Navas, Florence Mouchet, Laurie Gauthier, James Baker, Blanca Suárez-Merino, Tomi Canerva, Maurizio Prato, Bengt.・Fadil, Alberto Bianco, February 13, 2024, ACS nano.
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.3c09699

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