Will graphene replace silicon as a semiconductor material?

November 24, 2022
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Ever since its initial discovery at the University of Manchester in 2004, graphene has remained in the spotlight, particularly in both the semiconductor and electronics industries.

Although graphene is thinner than a single strand of human hair, it has been shown to exhibit a strength that is 300 times greater than that of steel3. Since 2004, over 25,000 patents based on graphene have been filed.
The material that has attracted investment from companies such as Tesla Motors, Airbus, Apple, and Qinetiq, is the world’s first 2D material.

Semiconductor materials – What is silicon?

Silicon is the raw material used in semiconductors.

Silicon is available in abundance and easily affordable. It can be used to both prevent and allow the flow of electricity and insulates. Innovation in the silicon industry has allowed semiconductor chips to become smaller and smarter.

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However, the industry is facing increased difficulty in extracting more value out of silicon. In addition, the mining and manufacturing of silicon damage the environment and causes ecological imbalance. Pure silicon must be fabricated artificially, which results in the emission of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and adds to air pollution. This has led to the search for a more suitable candidate to replace this material.

3 questions about the future of silicon

  • Slowing performance improvements lead to pricing pressures
  • Escalating capital and R&D costs
  • Feeling physical limitations of silicon

Graphene – What Is It?

Graphene is a 2D material with an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how it can be formed. The potential applications of graphene are vast, ranging from medicine to solar energy, to sensing technology. The most pertinent use is certainly in electronics. Graphene is the most conductive material that material researchers know of. Microchips that use graphene can sustain many more transistors than commonly used materials like silicon. This alone will make electronics more efficient. The real benefit that graphene can provide is the elimination of carbon created in silicon refinement.

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3 main uses for graphene

Clean water access at a lower cost

Graphene-oxide membranes allow solvents, such as water, to pass through but block impurities such as bacteria, pesticides, and other contaminants. This would allow developing countries to extract drinking water from seawater faster and more effectively. A move that could save lives and reduce the incidence of diseases associated with poor water sanitation. Even in countries with good access to drinking water, these graphene sieves could improve the efficiency of water treatment and eventually lower the costs of the water supplied.

Speed and efficiency of electronics

Although graphene cannot currently compare with silicon as a semiconductor material because it is a poor transistor, if scientists could crack this problem, the possibilities for its application in electronics would be enormous. Graphene computers are likely to be able to run 1000 times faster and use far less power than they do now.

Safety equipment will become more resilient

Helmets coated with graphene are now available, meaning that any impact is spread across a wider area, distributing the force more evenly and so reducing the risk of injury. The layer of graphene enables the heat to be dissipated more effectively and therefore comfort is also improved.

Will Graphene Replace Silicon in Electronics?

Graphene has great potential as a next-generation semiconductor material as a result of its exceptional properties, such as its high mobility that has been shown to be up to 250 times higher than that of silicon, low loss requirements, small scale, and flexibility. Graphene switches could not be turned off without proper band-gap engineering; therefore, the puzzle of its band-gap limitation needs to be solved prior to its commercial use. Another significant problem that hinders the ability of industries to explore the full potential of graphene is its compatibility with complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) devices. Considering the recent progress in the research performed on exploring the full potential of graphene, the future of the graphene-based semiconductor industry remains promising.

Future of Graphene

Due to its remarkable properties, graphene has endless possibilities that can revolutionize the world.

  • Graphene can be used to develop high-power batteries that would be fully charged within a few minutes.
  • Its unique molecular composition makes graphene one of the smallest and most useful filters, which could be used to convert seawater into drinking water.
  • Ongoing research on graphene is leading to experiments for new-age electronics that can be integrated with human biological systems. Hence, graphene gadgets can be implanted in the human body, allowing it to read the nervous system or talk to cells.
  • Graphene is a much better material for use in bulletproof vests as it is both thin and strong.
  • A new graphene contact lens has been developed that allows the wearer to see the complete infrared spectrum as well as UV light.

Graphene Insight

Assuming that a solution to overcome graphene’s band gap limitations will arise in the near future, graphene could, in theory, replace silicon as the primary semiconductor material in electronics that require high speed, low loss requirements, small scale, and flexibility. Graphene’s market is estimated to be approximately $190 billion USD across a wide range of areas including data processing, wireless communications, and consumer electronics.

References

“Can Graphene Change the Semiconductor Industry?” – AZoM
“Graphene will change the world: this is how it can be used” – Verdict
“Could Graphene Replace Silicon-Based Materials in Electronics?” – AZoNano