Graphite’s unique ability to conduct electricity while dissipating or transferring heat away from critical components makes it a great material for electronics applications including semiconductors, electric motors, and even the production of modern day batteries.
1. Nanotechnology and Semiconductors
As devices and electronics are becoming smaller and smaller, carbon nanotubes are becoming the norm, and they are proving to be the future of nanotechnology and the semiconductor industry .
Graphene is what scientists and engineers call a single layer of graphite at the atomic level, and these thin layers of graphene are being rolled-up and used in nanotubes . This is likely due to the impressive electrical conductivity and the material’s exceptional strength and stiffness.
Today’s carbon nanotubes are constructed with a length-to-diameter ratio of up to 132,000,000:1, which is significantly larger than any other material . Besides being used in nanotechnology, which is still rather new in the world of semiconductors, it should be noted that most graphite manufacturers have been making specific grades of graphite for the semiconductor industry for decades.
2. Electric Motors, Generators and Alternators
Carbon graphite material is also frequently used in electric motors, generators, and alternators in the form of carbon brushes. In this case a “brush” is a device that conducts current between stationary wires and a combination of moving parts, and it is usually housed in a rotating shaft .
3. Ion Implantation
Graphite is now being used with more frequency in the electronics industry. It is being used in ion implantation, thermocouples, electrical switches, capacitors, transistors, and batteries too.
Ion implantation is an engineering process where ions of a particular material are accelerated in an electrical field and are impacted into another material, as a form of impregnation. It is one of the fundamental processes used in the production of microchips for our modern computers, and graphite atoms are typically one of the types of atoms that are infused into these silicon based microchips .
Besides graphite’s unique role in the production of microchips, graphite based innovations are now being used to replace traditional capacitors and transistors as well. According to some researchers, graphene may be a possible alternative to silicon altogether. It is 100 times thinner than the smallest silicon transistor, conducts electricity much more efficiently, and has exotic properties that can be very useful in quantum computing . Graphene has also been used in modern capacitors too. In fact, graphene supercapacitors are supposedly 20x times more powerful than traditional capacitors (releasing 20 W/cm3), and they may be 3x times stronger than today’s high-powered, lithium-ion batteries .
When it comes to batteries (dry cell and lithium-Ion), carbon and graphite materials have been instrumental here too. In the case of a traditional dry-cell (the batteries we often use in our radios, flashlights, remotes, and watches), a metal electrode or graphite rod (the cathode) is surrounded by a moist electrolyte paste, and both are encapsulated within a metal cylinder .
Today’s modern lithium-ion batteries are using graphite too — as an anode. Older lithium-ion batteries used traditional graphite materials, however now that graphene is becoming more readily available, graphene anodes are now being used instead — mostly for two reasons; 1. graphene anodes hold energy better and 2. it promises a charge time that is 10x times faster than a traditional lithium-ion battery .
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are becoming more and more popular these days. They are now often used in our home appliances, portable electronics, laptops, smart phones, hybrid electric cars, military vehicles, and in aerospace applications too.