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Acting as an additive,  graphene can substantially improve the performance of polymers.
Acting as an additive, graphene can substantially improve the performance of polymers.

At the New Materials through Additives and Compounding Conference & Showcase organized by CPRJ and the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), Dr. Hou Shifeng, Chairman of Jining Leader Nano LLC, explained how graphene can enhance the performance of functional plastics, thereby opening up new opportunities for processors.

Offering superior thermal, electrical and mechanical properties, graphene, acting as an additive can substantially improve the performance of polymers.

“Graphene’s outstanding properties allow the creation of specialty plastics with specific function. No matter they are commodity plastics or engineering plastics, their performances move up a notch with the addition of graphene, bringing added values and new opportunities to plastics processing upgrade and transformation,” he said.

According to Dr. Hou, there are five major areas for graphene applications in polymers: anti-static plastics, thermal conductive plastics, high strength plastics, high barrier plastics and high porous plastic films.

Anti-static

As an insulative material, the surface resistivity of plastics is more than 1013Ω, limiting its use in anti-static or electrical conductive applications. The superior conductivity of graphene and its large L/D ratio means that, when filled into the polymer matrix, it can results in highly conductive plastics with low percolation threshold.

At present, Shandong LuTai Group is utilizing graphene to improve the conductivity, mechanical property and thermal stability of its conductive PVC masterbatch. Its surface resistivity ranges from 101-1010Ω.

Thermal conductivity

The low thermal conductivity of plastics has limited its use in a broader range of related application. The interface coupling effect between graphene and polymers and the thermal conductivity of the former allow modified plastics to conduct heat more efficiently, from 0.1-0.5 W/m•K to 5-10 W/m•K.

With 10 times or more improvements in thermal conductivity, lightweight plastics can be used to replace metal in a number of heat dispersing applications, such as LED heat sinks, vehicle cooling parts, heat dissipative housing for electronics, etc.

High strength plastics

Graphene is 100 times stronger than steel. It is therefore able to improve substantially the mechanical strength of plastics. Foamed plastics, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS), is not stiff enough for certain applications. As an additive, graphne can double the mechanical strength of EPS.

In the market, EPS reinforced with graphene is already used in packaging, military and industrial applications. Ongoing research include structural parts made of graphene composite that results in ultra-lightweight vehicles.

High barrier plastics

Graphene is a crystalline allotrope of carbon with two-dimensional properties and large specific surface area. Its outstanding gas barrier properties is a result of the material’s densely packed hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms, which enhance the barrier performance of plastics.

Graphene can also be used in the production of sealing rings and parts that need to withstand high pressure.
 
High porous plastic films

Different functional groups can be added on the graphene layer for specific requirements. For example, water permeable membrane that separates oil for oil spill solutions; or water permeable membrane that separates metal ions for waste water treatment, seawater desalination or salt chemicals processing.

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