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Researchers Eye New Nanomaterial for Protective Coatings

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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A team of researchers in the U.K. say that when it comes to protective coatings, graphene—touted as a “supermaterial”—may not be the panacea some hope, but another material, hexagonal boron nitride, may be leading a new pack of nanocoatings that could change the industry.

An international group of researchers, including two scientists from Queen’s University Belfast, announced recently that its research on graphene, the carbon-based nanomaterial, has shown a notable weakness in the otherwise super-strong material. When multiple layers of graphene are put together, they report, the material develops superlubricity—layers can simply slide across one another without generating heat the way friction normally would.

Queen's University Belfast

The researchers say their hBN research could lead to corrosion-protection coatings and even scratch-proof cars in the future.

“This means graphene, which is 300 times stronger than steel, becomes mechanically weaker and can easily break,” explains Queen’s researcher Elton Santos.

Graphene Mania

Graphene, discovered in 2004, has been the subject of great speculation in recent years because of its strength and light weight. While some have moved to commercialize graphene in protective coatings, the biggest challenge has been making a viable 3-D material from the single-atom layers.

A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced earlier this year, indicated some promise in making three-dimensional objects of graphene, and HMG Paints, of Manchester, England, announced in July that it plans to partner with Applied Graphene Materials to incorporate the material into coatings for vehicles and heavy equipment.

But the new research may be another strike against graphene—which has previously been labeled as lacking “toughness”—as a supermaterial.

“It is understandable that graphene is a ‘rock star’ within the 2-D families,” Santos told PaintSquare News. “It has most of the superlatives that one can think of, such as the thinnest, the largest surface area, the strongest materials ever measured, the stiffest, most stretchable […] etc. However, in [our] research we recently discovered that some of these great properties severely degraded as more layers are [put] together.”

The Promise of hBN

However, the same research revealed some positives in regard to another nanoscale material, hexagonal boron nitride, or hBN. Atomically thin hBN, a material already in use as a lubricant in some industrial applications, was found to develop diamond-like strength in just a few layers.

The newly discovered strength of hBN at such ultrathin levels of thickness adds to a list of properties that already made the material a prime candidate for use as a protective coating, chief among them its insulative nature, which could help to protect against corrosion.

“The electrical insulation in hBN would be one of the factors behind its success, apart from chemical stability,” Santos told PaintSquare News.

Nature Communication / Open published article

The researchers found that hBN developed diamondlike strength in just a few layers.

“We are looking at a timeline of around five to 10 years to transform the discoveries into real products," Santos said. "But we could see benefits such as material reinforcement to mixture in solutions such as ink for paint, which would give further strength against corrosion and could potentially mean scratch-proof cars in future."

Santos says hBN may have its limits, such as in high-heat applications.

“We know that few-layers hBN is pretty stable up to several hundreds of degrees Celsius (~500-800 C),” he says. “However […] petrochemical [plants] or jet engines can easily reach more than 1200 [degrees] Celsius in few seconds. So, hBN may not be the best candidate for these type of applications, because it may not guarantee the stability and the safety, which is a big issue in these applications.”

But, he says, that doesn’t mean another material might not pop up that can fill that role as the team’s research continues.

“Nevertheless,” Santos says, “if we look around we may find a better 2-D candidate that it is near us, just waiting to be probed. Indeed, we found one that is currently [being] tested in the lab. Initial results are just great.”

Research Team

In addition to Santos, the team behind the graphene and hBN research included Lu Hua Li and Ying Chen, of Deakin University in Australia; Dong Qian, of the University of Texas; Rodney S. Ruoff, of Unist in South Korea; Kenji Watanabe, of Nims in Japan; Rui Zhang, of Northwestern Polytechnical University and Zhi Yang of Wenzho University, both in China; and Declan Scullion, also of Queen’s University Belfast.

Their findings were published in Nature Communication.


Tagged categories: Coating chemistry; Colleges and Universities; Corrosion protection; Graphene; Nano and hybrid coatings; Nanotechnology; Research

Comment from John Becker IV, (9/21/2017, 10:43 AM)

"Superlubricity" of graphene nanoparticles is the combined result of the agglomeration of nanoparticles through attractive vs. repulsive forces and the fact that graphene oxide is ot "functionalized" in the traditional sense. The agglomerations needs to be dealt with to realize the full potential of a nanoparticle. This is one of the topics that will be presented at the 2017 Polyurea Development Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA Octiober 4-6.

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