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Development of Graphene-Based Solutions More Likely as Effects on Health Appear Minimal

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Graphene

Graphene, with its enormous potential, represents a significant breakthrough in material science. Extracted from graphite, a crystalline form of carbon, Graphene stands as a remarkably significant material rather than an element. You'll commonly find it in the lead of a pencil.

Being the thinnest material at only one atom thick, Graphene sets itself apart with its lightness, elasticity, and toughness. It boasts a resistance 200 times greater than steel and a thickness a thousand times less than human hair.

This unique material is five times lighter than aluminum, itself three times lighter than steel, and possesses diverse properties. These include the ability to absorb light and high electrical and thermal conductivity, paving the way for innovations across various sectors.

In the electronics industry, Graphene's high conductivity extends the useful life of batteries significantly and shortens charging time, enhancing energy efficiency and device durability while preventing overheating. Its lightness overcomes one of the significant limitations of drones— the heavy manufacture of batteries for energy storage.

Graphene's flexibility and ability to absorb minimal light make it ideal for manufacturing durable screens for various devices. Meanwhile, its resistance makes it a crucial component for advances in the lighting sector. 

In construction, Graphene improves building insulation and offers resistance to dampness, corrosion, and fire, contributing to better thermal regulation in homes. Hence, it can be really beneficial in the renewable energy sector as it will generate more energy than what is being currently produced. Meanwhile, in healthcare, it can help create lighter hearing aids as well as bones and muscles through surgical operations.

Graphene's possible applications further include transistors, antennas, computer chips, supercapacitors, DNA sequencing, water filters, and solar cells. 

Given Graphene's varying properties and its potential for revolutionizing so many different sectors, the scientific community has been keeping a close watch on Graphene. Researchers and companies all over the world have been studying and experimenting with this material.

Just this week, study by MIT physicists found a “fractional quantum anomalous Hall effect” in Graphene. The Fractional quantum Hall effect is an exceedingly rare thing that, if controlled, can help build fault-tolerant quantum computers. 

This effect is only seen a few times, and that too mostly under very high, carefully maintained magnetic fields. But this time, the effect was seen in a material that scientists weren't expecting it on and, on top of that, in the absence of a magnetic field. This discovery holds significant implications for the field of fundamental physics. It is likely to pave the way for a new form of quantum computing that is substantially more resistant to disturbances.

In another study, researchers revealed a novel method of synthesizing graphene oxide (GO), which is dispersible in solvents. The new method combined the acid from the Hummers method and the oxidant from the Brodie method to produce GO in a simple manner but with a small number of defects.

However, while graphene has vast application potential, it is not yet widely used and is still being explored. Limited production volume, high cost, and health risks are the biggest factors limiting the adoption of Graphene. However, one of these factors might not be as limiting. 

Click here to learn if graphene semiconductors are really here.

Human Trial Shows Inhaling Graphene is Safe

Graphene was first isolated by scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 2004, for which they received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. Lauded as a ‘wonder material,' graphene has been explored around the world, including in the healthcare field, via implantable devices and sensors.

In healthcare, the material is also being investigated in regard to targeted therapeutics against conditions such as cancer. But, of course, before the material could be used for medical purposes, it must be tested for any potential adverse effects. And a recent study suggests a specific type of Graphene can be inhaled without any acute risk to human health. 

This clinical trial, which involved the first controlled exposure, made use of a thin, ultra-pure water-compatible form of the material — graphene oxide (GO). 

Graphene is a 2D nanomaterial of a single or few layers of carbon lattice, and its oxidized form has shown promise in biomedical sciences thanks to its compatibility with blood cells, hydrophilicity, high surface area for chemical functionalization, and reasonable colloidal stability in biologically relevant solutions. Layered graphene oxide materials, in particular, are studied for membrane applications. However, there is limited and inconsistent toxicological data available for graphene oxide.

While being developed for broad applications, as the study noted, graphene oxide nanomaterials are associated with potential safety concerns for human health. As a result, the team had a double-blind, randomized controlled trial to find out just how inhaling this material influences the acute functions of our lungs and blood vessels.

The highly purified, thin, and metal and endotoxin-free GO materials were synthesized using a modified Hummers' method. The GO nanosheets (2D nanostructures with thickness between 1 to 100 nm range) were of a size that was tightly defined and had no elemental contamination. The study used two lateral dimensions: small GO (s-GO) and ultrasmall GO (us-GO). 

Over a dozen volunteers took part in the study, where they experienced carefully controlled exposure, which involved breathing the material through a face mask. Graphene oxide was breathed by the participants for two hours while cycling in a specifically designed mobile exposure chamber. Volunteers then returned for repeated controlled exposures a few weeks later. This time, the research focused on experimenting with graphene oxide particles of various sizes.

So, the 14 young, healthy volunteers inhaled both small and extremely small GO nanosheets with a concentration of 200 μg m−3 (micrograms per cubic meter air) in repeated visits. The actual concentration of s-GO was 214 ± 23 μg m−3, and of us-GO was 224 ± 17 μg m−3, which were maintained at a constant level throughout the two hours.

Making the Most of Nanotechnology

The study measured the effects of the material on lung function, blood clotting, blood pressure, and inflammation in the blood before the exposure and at two-hour intervals. 

Researchers found no adverse effects of the material on blood pressure or lung function. It had no unfavorable reaction in other biological parameters that were looked at. However, they did notice that graphene oxide inhalation may influence the way the blood clots but emphasized that the effect was very small.

As for the analysis of the highly enriched blood proteomics, it showed very few differential plasma proteins, while thrombus formation was only lightly increased in an ex vivo model of arterial injury. 

This study, according to Professor Kostas Kostarelos, University of Manchester, and the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) in Barcelona, demonstrates that pure forms of graphene oxide can be developed further while minimizing the risk to human health. He noted:

“It has taken us more than ten years to develop the knowledge to carry out this research, from a materials and biological science point of view, but also from the clinical capacity to carry out such controlled studies safely.” 

The study was conducted by researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester and funded by the UKRI EPSRC and the British Heart Foundation. According to the researchers, further work is required to figure out whether higher doses of different forms of graphene would have a different effect on health. The team of researchers is further interested in exploring whether extended exposure to graphene oxide would cause additional health risks. 

While nanomaterials like Graphene hold great promise, it must be ensured that “they are manufactured in a way that is safe before they can be used more widely in our lives,” said Dr. Mark Miller (BSc, PhD), a senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cardiovascular Science. Exploring the safety of Graphene in humans will help us understand how this unique material could affect the body, and “with careful design, we can safely make the most of nanotechnology,” he added.

When it comes to the study's limitations, researchers noted that it only detected changes in biological parameters based on their previous work with diesel exhaust nanoparticles, and participant numbers may be insufficient to detect GO inhalation's more subtle effects. 

Also, the researchers chose the dosage specifically to prevent overt physiological effects, suggesting that higher concentrations of GO or longer exposure durations might reveal effects not observed in this study. Additionally, the inability to extend the study beyond 6 hours meant that it likely missed capturing some inflammatory pathways.

Having said that, the study clearly shows that inhaling the ultra-purified and thin graphene oxide nanosheets, which are nanometre-sized, does not affect healthy humans. This way, it lays down the foundations to investigate the effects of other two-dimensional nanomaterials (flat, non-spherically shaped substances with one dimension <100 nm) in humans. 

This study opens the door for developing new methods of delivering drugs to treat diseases. When designing an optimized drug delivery system, the objective is to carry therapeutic agents in a controllable manner while minimizing side effects on healthy tissue. 

It is certainly a major step towards a comprehensive risk assessment of Graphene and 2D nanomaterials that have the potential to address multiple global challenges to adopt a safe-by-design approach to harness the true potential of this unique material.

Companies Exploring Graphene

Graphene-based solutions can greatly benefit many industries and tons of companies such as Tesla, Samsung, Lockheed Martin, Ford, Intel, and 3M, among others. Now, let's take a look at companies that are exploring Graphene and developing solutions based on the material:

#1. Graphenea

The leading manufacturer of graphene-based materials, Graphenea provides high-quality Graphene for research and industrial applications. The company's portfolio consists of Graphene Oxide, Graphene Field-Effect-Transistors chips (GFETs), CVD Graphene films, and Graphene Foundry Services (GFAB). 

Graphenea's list of products meanwhile includes a Graphenea card and mGFET-4D and mGEFD-4P for sensing applications. The company is a partner of the Graphene Flagship, boasted as the biggest research initiative in Europe for coordinated efforts with a budget of €1 billion.

#2. Haydale Graphene Industries

Haydale at a Glance

The global technology company specializes in the processing of Graphene, among other nanomaterials, for various applications. With a market cap of 4.44 million, Haydale Graphene Industries (HAYD-GB: London Stock Exchange) shares are trading at 0.45, down 5.26% year-to-date (YTD). The company has an EPS (TTM) of -0.85 and a P/E (TTM) of -0.53. 

The company's year-on-year net income has fallen 28.20% to a loss of 6.17mln despite an over 48% increase in revenues to 4.30 mln, which has been due to an increase in the cost of goods sold as a percentage of sales. In the second half of last year, Haydale raised £5m from a subscription at 0.5p/share and provided a retail offer of up to £1m for individual investors. 

The company recently partnered with PETRONAS Ventures, the tech commercialization arm of Malaysian oil and gas company Petroliam Nasional Berhad, to functionalize Graphene for product applications. This collaboration was an attempt to advance the mass production of graphene-based products in numerous industries. 

In Dec. 2023, the Welsh Government gave the company SMART funding to develop graphene-infused heat transfer fluids in partnership with the water-based heat transfer fluids manufacturer Hydratech.

#3. IBM

This tech giant has been exploring Graphene in electronics. About a decade ago, IBM built a graphene chip that was 10,000 times faster than previous graphene ICs. Then, many years later, IBM utilized graphene's unique properties to develop fabrication techniques that enabled the scaling of semiconductor devices to feature sizes smaller than 7 nanometers on silicon wafers. 

This represents a significant leap in semiconductor technology, pushing the boundaries of miniaturization and performance. IBM has been investing a lot of time and billions of dollars into the future of nanoelectronics, including using Graphene.

finviz dynamic chart for  IBM

With a market cap of $164 bln the company's shares (IBM: NYSE) have been trading at $181.20, up 9.87% YTD. IBM has posted a revenue (TTM) of $61.86 bln and has an EPS (TTM) of 8.03, P/E (TTM) of 22.37, and ROE (TTM) of 33.36%. The company also pays a dividend yield of 3.70%.

Conclusion

Graphene, an extremely diverse material, finds vast applications across the energy, electronics, and construction sectors. In the tech sector, this material can completely change the way we interact with technology. This study further demonstrates that the medical sector can use this unique material safely without any detrimental effects on human health and the body. However, achieving the full benefits of Graphene requires mass-scale production at a low cost is required, a milestone that is yet to be reached. 

Nonetheless, one cannot deny that Graphene is the “material of the future,” and rightly so. Being the world's thinnest, most flexible, and strongest material represents, it heralds a real revolution that can change the world.

Click here to learn about the nanoscale graphite primed for commercialization.

Gaurav started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 and has fallen in love with the crypto space ever since. His interest in everything crypto turned him into a writer specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Soon he found himself working with crypto companies and media outlets. He is also a big-time Batman fan.