Graphene – a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern – is a miracle material. It’s the best known conductor of heat and electricity; its strength for its size and thickness is unrivaled; and it has the potential to revolutionize everything from tennis racquets to medical devices.
Adding a dash of graphene to concrete can increase its compressive strength by 25 percent and the strength of plastic by 250 percent.
But pure graphene can cost as much as $200,000 a ton.
Now scientists at Rice University are revolutionizing the way graphene is made – by making pristine graphite from garbage.
The researchers start with any source of carbon, such as old tires, orange peels, coal, or plastic bottles. They flash the carbon source with an electric blast at 5,000°F for one-hundredth of a second. All non-carbon substances are vaporized and vented out of the reaction chamber. What remains behind are flakes of graphene.
The method costs a fraction of that of the usual techniques for producing graphene.
Scaling up the process will take time; Universal Matter, the researchers’ commercial  start-up, is designing a reactor that they expect will produce a little more than two pounds of graphene a day in two years.
TRENDPOST: Converting waste into useful products is key to sustaining human society on a crowded planet with limited resources. This “flash graphene” discovery likely will be a foundational industrial process in the 2030s and beyond.

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