Domtar and USDA Develop Lignin-Based Graphene

Superman isn’t the only thing that’s stronger than steel. Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel, yet it’s 6 times lighter. And now, we have developed a way to make lignin-based graphene.

After about three years of collaboration, Domtar’s Biomaterials team, along with research scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, have discovered a way to make graphene using lignin, a biodegradable product produced during the pulp and paper manufacturing process.

Graphene is made of a single layer of graphite — yes, the same kind that’s in your pencil — that’s just one carbon atom thick. It’s the thinnest, strongest material ever discovered.

How thin is it? It’s so thin that it’s almost transparent. If you used graphene to cover an entire football field, it would weigh less than one gram — about as much as a single paper clip. And because it’s an excellent heat and electricity conductor, graphene has the potential to revolutionize many products, including textiles, electronics and solar panels. It also has possible applications in the automotive, aerospace and building industries. (Learn more about this amazing material.)

Lignin-Based Graphene Cuts Costs

Historically, graphene has been expensive to produce on a commercial scale because of the complex process of isolating a single layer of graphene from graphite. But Domtar and the USDA Forest Service have discovered a potentially more cost-effective way to produce graphene from lignin.

Lignin is the natural glue that holds wood fibers together. It’s what makes wood hard. Second only to cellulose, it’s the most abundant organic polymer on earth.

“We’re excited by this discovery and its many potential applications,” says Dale Mitchell, director of business development, Domtar Biomaterials. “We’re learning more and more in the lab every day. We hope to expand our research into the field to understand the full capabilities and commercial opportunities for lignin-based graphene.”

While the team continues to explore the potential of lignin-based graphene, its research has already produced samples that will be sent to universities and industry collaborators for more testing.

For more information about lignin-based graphene, please contact Dale Mitchell at dale.mitchell@domtar.com.

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