Graphene, a form of carbon that consists of a single layer of atoms arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice, is a key element for many industrial applications, including semiconductors, electronics, electric batteries and composites. Now, thanks to the work of the EU-funded GRANN project, its use has been extended into the nano realm. “This project, supported by the European Research Council, succeeded in exploiting the remarkable properties of graphene,” says Liv Hornekaer, a physicist at Aarhus University and GRANN project coordinator. “We did this by designing and synthesising new families of nanostructured graphene via advanced synthesis routes and chemical functionalisation.”
A number of important outcomes
The GRANN project brought together a team of experts in graphene synthesis, graphene coatings and controlling graphene’s electronic properties on macroscopic samples. Together, they achieved several important outcomes, including the development of new methods for synthesising graphene nanodot structures. Researchers also explored the chemical reactivity of nanographene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons under interstellar conditions. Another important outcome was the development of an innovative approach to engineering a tuneable band gap opening in graphene by forming hydrogen functionalisation nanoscale structures with tuneable symmetry. “We demonstrated the existence of novel chemical reaction routes and functionalisation motifs for graphene on metal substrates,” explains Hornekaer. “Specifically, we showed that graphene mediates the catalytic activity of the underlying metal surface, which enables chemical functionalisation with excited molecular hydrogen and the stabilisation of a new binding motif for atomic oxygen on graphene.” Researchers further demonstrated how graphene can act as a protective coating on industrial-grade metal alloys, and how hydrogen functionalisation nanostructures can enhance the protective properties of such coatings. “The project clearly showed the potential for graphene coatings and functionalisation-enhanced graphene coatings as anti-corrosion coatings on the surfaces of industrial applications,” adds Hornekaer.
Opening the door to new research opportunities
Of the project’s many accomplishments, Hornekaer is most proud of the development of a method for exploiting the symmetry in functionalisation patterns to engineer a band gap opening in graphene. “By allowing us to control the hydrogen functionalisation of graphene, we were able to produce nanostructured graphene with varying symmetry,” she remarks. It’s results like this that have opened the door to new research opportunities. The research started by the GRANN project is continuing under Hornekaer’s leadership at the newly established Center for Interstellar Catalysis at Denmark’s Aarhus University and at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Hornekaer’s work will focus on the catalytic activity of nanographene and carbonaceous nanoparticles in forming complex organic molecules under interstellar conditions. “Our aim is to determine whether the molecular building blocks of life can be catalysed in interstellar space – the regions where new stars and planets form,” concludes Hornekaer. “This work will build heavily on the results obtained and the techniques we developed during the GRANN project.”
GRANN, graphene, nano, coatings, nanoparticles, nanostructured, alloys