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Graphene is a material with a host of potential applications, including in flexible light sources, solar panels that could be integrated into windows, and membranes to desalinate and purify water. But all these possible uses face the same big hurdle: the need for a scalable and cost-effective method for continuous manufacturing of graphene films.

That could finally change with a new process described this week in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers at MIT and the University of Michigan. MIT mechanical engineering Associate Professor A. John Hart, the paper's senior author, says the new roll-to-roll manufacturing process described by his team addresses the fact that for many proposed applications of graphene and other 2-D materials to be practical, "you're going to need to make acres of it, repeatedly and in a cost-effective manner."

Making such quantities of graphene would represent a big leap from present approaches, where researchers struggle to produce small quantities of graphene—often pulling these sheets from a lump of graphite using adhesive tape, or producing a film the size of a postage stamp using a laboratory furnace. But the new method promises to enable continuous production, using a thin metal foil as a substrate, in an industrial process where the material would be deposited onto the foil as it smoothly moves from one spool to another. The resulting sheets would be limited in size only by the width of the rolls of foil and the size of the chamber where the deposition would take place.

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