Graphene, a material consisting of a mono-atomic layer of carbon atoms (whose thickness, in other words, is equivalent to the dimensions of a single atom) and with the mechanical strength of a diamond and the flexibility of plastic, can be produced with waste oil.

The discovery was made by a pool of Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organisation. The procedure, known as GraphAir, is fairly simple: soy oil is heated in a tube furnace, until it breaks down into small blocks of carbon, and then cooled quickly on a sheet of nickel. As the carbon blocks cool, they re-form to create rectangles of graphene. The process is far cheaper than graphene production and also provides a sustainable solution for recycling waste oil.

Although the process currently produces a graphene sheet the size of a credit card, which is not suitable for commercial and industrial purposes, future developments look very encouraging.

Graphene is an excellent conductor and important research is underway into its use in the production of semiconductor systems.

The material is widely used in the development and manufacture of latest-generation transistors and the production of polymer nanocompounds, obtained by incorporating graphene into the basic polymer matrix.

A more recent material is silicene, a two-dimensional allotrope of silicon with a hexagonal structure similar to graphene, whose existence as a material was demonstrated by a team of physicists at the Tor Vergata University in Rome, who successfully synthesised it by depositing monolayers of silicon on crystalline graphite surfaces in an ultra-vacuum, avoiding all possible contact with the substrate.

The new experimental tests are an important step forward in research and development work on new microscopic materials that can be used to create high-efficiency solar cells, ultra-fast transistors and polluting gas detectors. Silicene, and graphene, are two excellent candidates.

Directa Plus, the leading graphene producer on the Italian market, which was recently admitted for trading on the London stock exchange, is considering the matter carefully.