Scientists from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have developed a new technology to transform soyabean oil into graphene.

Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick. Its 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 has been the major roadblock in its commercialisation,” CSIRO said in a press release on 31 Janaury.

“Previously, graphene was made in a highly-controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, requiring long hours of operation at high temperatures and extensive vacuum processing.”

CSIRO scientists have developed a new ‘GraphAir’ technology that 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,” CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han said. “Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications.”

CSIRO scientist Dr Dong Han Seo said their GraphAir technology resulted in graphene properties comparable to graphene made by conventional methods.

As well as soyabean oil, the CSIRO team have also transformed other types of renewable, and even waste oils, into graphene films.

CSIRO said graphene had excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties. Its uses ranged from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels, Other potential applications included water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine.

It said it was now looking for an industry partner to find new uses for graphene.