Graphene offers exciting opportunities for Northwestern Ontario mining and economy

Graphene is an extraordinary combination of physical and chemical properties: it is the thinnest material, it conducts electricity much better than copper, it is 100-300 times stronger than steel and it has unique optical properties


THUNDER BAY – While many in Northwestern Ontario look to the Ring of Fire and chromite as a solid way of boosting our region’s economy, there are more minerals in our region that are generating a great deal of excitement. One of those minerals is graphite.


Graphite can be made into graphene. The origin of the word, Graphene, was coined as a combination of graphite and the suffix -ene, which means molecules with a double bond of carbon. Its structure is one-atom-thick (0.35nm) planar sheets of sp2-bonded carbon atoms that are densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. It is Fullerene if carbon atom is in the form of sphere, Carbon Nanotube if it is in cylindrical nanostructure, and Graphene if it is unfolded.

Graphene is twice stronger than diamond, and 200 times stronger than steel. Also, diamond is a nonconductor that does not conduct electricity, but graphene conducts electricity very well, and has electrical conductivity that is more than 100 times higher than copper. For example, if light travels at the constant speed of 300,000km in a vacuum, electron travels at the constant speed of 1000km/sec in graphene.

The reason for the difference is the difference in the bonding that connects carbon and carbon. Compare to diamond, a single bond, graphene has a double bond. As the name implies, double bond has two bridges connecting carbon and carbon. Because double bond is a stronger bond than a single bond, which has one bridge to connect carbon and carbon, graphene is stronger than diamond when compared and through one of two bonds, electrons can go back and forth between graphene.

It also means diamond, which has a single bond, does not conduct electricity, but graphene does.

It is also resistant to shock due to the hexagonal honeycomb shape because just as a net, which changes shape when bended or stretched but does not change the connection, empty space of hexagonal structure works as a buffer. Thus, it has the elasticity good enough to be stretched to 20% of the area. The electrical conductivity does not go away when bended or stretched and it is transparent enough to pass 98% of light. That is why graphene is in the limelight as the next-generation device that can replace transparent ITO.

The Times of India report, “A young Allahabad University scientist, working at the Nano Application Centre (NAC), has synthesized graphene in lab using a new, simple, cheap and time-saving method. His work could well place India in the global competitive market in multiple use of graphene, the carbon compound that is 200 times tougher than the strongest steel, is able to conduct heat 10 times better than copper and is the lightest metal ever known to man”.

The BBC reports, “Carbon is usually used as the conductive element – but to improve its performance, the Stanford team used graphene, a sheet of carbon just one atom thick. “In conventional electrodes, people randomly mix iron and nickel materials with conductive carbon,” said Stanford postgraduate student Hailiang Wang, lead author of the study”.

The potential for change that this new material offers is amazing. It is generating a great deal of excitement in the field of science.

Over the summer the finds being reported for use of graphene are starting to pour into the media around the world. The potential for our region is very exciting.

Across Northwestern Ontario there are a number of very promising graphite finds. Rare Earth Metals, Zenyatta Ventures, and other mining companies are finding or exploring for graphite in our region.

James Murray

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