Around 2006, the very beginning of graphene research in China, Chengmeng Chen became one of the researchers of graphene at the Institute of Coal Chemistry of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Over the past 12 years, Chengmeng has been standing on the front line of graphene research and he has witnessed great progress with graphene in China, including the industrialization of graphene, commercialization of graphene products, and developments in application.
Before 2010, lacking in methods of mass production, graphene was synthesized in laboratories and the price, not surprisingly, was over 3000 RMB (around $500) per gram. At that time, the excellent features of graphene had drawn lots of attention from researchers, but the cost of production was too high. With his background, Chengmeng Chen chose new methods of graphene mass production as his research topic, focusing on the bottlenecks of research and graphene applications. Generally speaking, graphene is a two dimensional material with a specific structure and it is very difficult to produce high quality graphene in great scale at a controlled cost. Chengmeng started with the synthesis of graphene through the reduction of graphite oxide monolayer films, which is also called the oxidation-reduction method. It’s a very simple method for graphene synthesis and the raw materials are very easily obtained. What’s more, the oxidation-reduction method has lots in common with some of the chemical engineering processes to potentially mass produce graphene. Aiming for high production numbers, Chengmeng and his team worked with the Jinneng Group on breaking through the engineering technology of graphene based on the oxidation-reduction method. Together, they solved the difficulties of the intermediate-separation/purification process and the related equipment renovation.
The pilot line in ton scale was complete at the end of 2014, reducing the production cost of graphene from 3000 RMB to 20 RMB per gram. Now that the issue of production cost had been solved, the next question was how to take it to application. To this end, Chengmeng and his team cooperated with the Shanxi Sanwei Group to build an advanced pilot platform of energy storage devices. To be more specific, it is regarded as an innovation chain of raw materials, applicable materials, and devices to finalize applications of graphene with the capability to design and assemble various graphene-based supercapacitors. By using graphene, the energy and power density of the devices have been improved by 30% and 40%, respectively.
As one of the pioneers of graphene research in China, Chengmeng lays great importance on the fundamental research of material application. In his opinion, it is not only the good side of materials that we should take into consideration, but also the drawbacks that may restrict the commercialization. Furthermore, he points out that we should base the requirements of the application of graphene on a more complete industrialization, and only in this way can we make a better future of graphene.