Washington, Aug 1 : By developing a nanomaterial that makes plastic stiffer, lighter and stronger, a Michigan State University researcher has made a breakthrough in the energy and electronics industry.
This material, called xGnP Exfoliated Graphite NanoPlatelets, could further lead to more fuel-efficient airplanes and cars as well as more durable medical and sports equipment.
Lawrence Drzal, University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU, claimed that xGnP would be instrumental in the development of new and expanded applications in the aerospace, automotive and packaging industries.
The material is believed to be a practical, inexpensive material that has a unique set of physical, chemical and morphological attributes. He said that the nanoscale material, which is electrically and thermally conductive, has reduced flammability and barrier properties.
"XGnP can either be used as an additive to plastics or by itself it can make a transformational change in the performance of many advanced electronic and energy devices. It can do so because it's a nanoparticle with a unique shape made from environmentally benign carbon, and it can be made at a very reasonable cost," said Drzal.
The process behind the new material's capabilities involves separating layers of graphite (graphene) into stacks less than 10 nanometers in thickness but with lateral dimensions anywhere from 500 nm to tens of microns, coupled with the ability to tailor the particle surface chemistry to make it compatible with water, resin or plastic systems.
The material could be used to make lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft and car parts, and stronger wind turbines, medical implants and sports equipment. It is also a good electrical conductor attractive for lithium ion batteries and could be used to make transparent conductive coatings for solar cells and displays.
It can make gasoline tanks lightweight and leak tight and plastic containers that keep food fresh for weeks. Already, the researchers are looking ahead to more uses for the product - like recyclable, economical or lightweight units to store hydrogen for the next generation of fuel cell-powered autos.
"Now that we know how to make this material and how to modify it so that it can be utilized in plastics, our attention is being directed to high-end applications where we can really make some substantial changes in the way electronics, fuel cells, batteries and solar cells perform as a result of using this material," he said.