Graphene: creating corrosion inhibiting coatings

Paul Boughton

Helping industry unlock graphene’s potential, 2-DTech has embarked upon research which could have huge impact on the effectiveness of electronics and electrical equipment in demanding industrial environments.

The company, a spin-out of the University of Manchester (where graphene was first isolated), has secured an Innovate UK grant for £100,000 to finance a project with the long term goal of finding a way to improve anti-corrosive coatings through incorporation of the carbon nanomaterial graphene.

Copper, thanks to its inherent ability to conduct electricity, is utilised extensively in electrical interconnects and cables. Likewise its exceptional thermal conductivity makes it very suitable for heat sinks.

However, there are many application scenarios in which it is deployed that can prove highly corrosive, with elevated levels of moisture, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, etc.

Copper corrosion can impinge heavily on system performance, leading to overheating and potentially even malfunction, with compliance to current environmental directives (such as RoHS) now exacerbating the problem further.

Graphene, as it is chemically inert and virtually impermeable, has the potential to be implemented in ultra-thin (at an atomic level) coatings for combatting corrosion. The team at 2-DTech are now engaged in developing a scalable and commercially-viable manufacturing process to produce high crystalline quality silicon-doped graphene for this purpose. They will be working with the Engineering Research Institute of Ulster University, where initial studies have already achieved encouraging results.

It is hoped that by introducing silicon as a dopant to multi-layer graphene it will be possible to fortify its domain boundaries. This could result in a step change improvement in anti-corrosive silicon-graphene conductive films for application on to copper substrates via thermal chemical vapour deposition (TCVD).

“Coatings featuring graphene could be instrumental in preventing failure of critical electronics hardware and thermal management systems exposed to harsh operational conditions,” states Nigel Salter, 2-DTech’s Managing Director. “By adding a silicon dopant to graphene without disrupting its intra-domain crystalline structure, we are confident that it will be possible to fabricate coatings with far greater corrosion resistance - allowing these systems to exhibit a much higher degree of ruggedness and thus extend their working lifespan significantly.”

Graphene could present industry with the thinnest conceivable coating for protecting against the harm done by corrosion,” adds Professor Pagona Papakonstantinou of Ulster University. “We are looking forward to collaborating with 2-DTech on this important project.”