Graphene has made a remarkable impact in the 15 years since it was discovered by Russian scientists working at the University of Manchester. Just six years after its discovery, Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov had won the Nobel prize for physics for their work, and the word "graphene" had worked its way into the public consciousness.
Graphene is—like diamond, graphite, fullerenes and carbon nanotubes—an allotrope of carbon. In graphene, carbon atoms are arranged in two-dimensional single layers of hexagonal lattices. They have a planar structure resembling chicken wire.
Its remarkable properties include the ability to conduct both electricity and heat very efficiently. It is also incredibly strong—200 times stronger than steel—and has excellent sound insulating properties.
The list of potential applications is enormous, ranging from paints and inks to touch screens and even footwear. And scientists in Ford's emerging materials group wondered whether the automotive industry could take advantage of its unusual properties.
The company had been trying for years to incorporate graphene into hard plastics to make them stronger and stiffer. The goal was to replace some metal components in cars. But, according to Debbie Mielewski, the company's senior technical leader for emerging materials, these attempts were unsuccessful. "We can't even get it into an extruder," she said.