A carbon material that is one atom thick, graphene’s thin composition and high conductivity means it is used in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices.
These properties also enable thinner wire connections, providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.
Until now, the high cost of graphene production had been the major roadblock in its commercialisation.
Previously, graphene was grown in a highly controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, requiring long hours of operation at high temperatures and extensive vacuum processing.
Scientists have been rushing to find ways that graphene can be used commercially since the material was discovered at Manchester University in 2004.
A team from that university is coming towards the end of a five-year study into graphene’s potential as a beverage can coating to replace some coatings currently used. The researchers there also believe it could be used in a wide range of packaging applications.
Now scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Csiro) have developed a novel "GraphAir" technology which eliminates the need for such a highly-controlled environment.
The technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.
"This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly," Zhao Jun Han, co-author of the paper, published in Nature Communications, said.
"Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications."
GraphAir transforms natural soybean oil into graphene films in a single step.
“[It] results in good and transformable graphene properties, comparable to graphene made by conventional methods," said Dong Han Seo, another of the study’s co-authors.
With heat, soybean oil breaks down into a range of carbon building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene.
The team also transformed other types of renewable oil, including even waste oil left over from barbecues and kitchens, into graphene films.
"We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful," Dr Seo said.
The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine.