Is graphene ready to replace silicon?

For the first time, semiconductors have been produced from graphene – a potential revolution for the electronics market. The Norwegian developers say products could be on the market in as little as five years.

The method involves growing a network of semiconductor-nanowires on graphene, by ‘bombing’ the graphene surface with gallium atoms and arsenic molecules.

The result is a hybrid material which acts as a semiconductor and is just one-micrometer thick – hundreds of times thinner than the silicon semiconductors in use today. Their ability to conduct electricity can be controlled by temperature, light or the addition of other atoms.

And graphene is cheap – much cheaper than silicon. This, plus the extreme thinness of the semiconductors opens up a vast range of applications, new and old.

“Given that it’s possible to make semiconductors out of graphene instead of silicon, we can make semiconductor components that are both cheaper and more effective than the ones currently on the market,” says Helge Weman of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“This may bring about a revolution in the production of solar cells and LED components. Windows in traditional houses could double as solar panels or a TV screen. Mobile phone screens could be wrapped around the wrist like a watch. In short, the potential is tremendous.”

The researchers say they’ve had ‘huge interest’ from electronics giants including Samsung and IBM, and now plan to start producing prototypes for a range of applications. Commericla products should be available in 2017.

“There is tremendous interest in producing semiconductors out of graphene, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find collaborative partners,” says Weman.