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Can You Make Graphene Armor?

Graphene Armor

Since its Nobel Prize Winning discovery in 2004, graphene has become the world’s wonder material! Being used in everything from medical and environmental applications and graphene coating for surfaces to improving screen quality and making batteries more efficient but can you make graphene armor?

You can make graphene armor, and tests have shown that graphene is far more effective when stopping projectiles than Kevlar’s current body armor. Aside from body armor, there are also ideas around using graphene as armor for vehicles.

The implications for both body and vehicle armor using graphene are staggering, and the chances are very high that graphene will soon replace personal, tank, and plane armor. So let’s learn graphene, why it is ideally suited for armor, and how to make it!

What Is Graphene?

image of graphene mesh

Graphene is a material composed of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is a two-dimensional material with extraordinary properties, including the ability to conduct heat and electricity. Graphene can also create composite materials with other substances, such as metals and plastics.

In addition, graphene is extremely strong and lightweight. These properties make graphene ideal for many applications, including electronics, energy storage, and aerospace engineering. Scientists are still exploring the potential of graphene, and even more; uses may be discovered.

You can see more in this video if you want to know more about graphene and why it will take over the world.

Graphene Is Ideal For Armor Because It’s Light

There are a few compelling reasons that graphene is the perfect material for armor; first, it is so light. When making armor, whether for vehicles or people, weight is always a critical consideration.

Look at the knights of old in steel armor. At the time, it was effective in preventing injury. Still, it was not 100% effective as arrows, other powerful weapons, and projectiles could penetrate it. Of course, when firearms became the dominant force in warfare, steel armor was pretty useless.

Tanks and other vehicles use steel plating or combinations of Kevlar and steel, which adds to the weight. Aside from that, steel armor was cumbersome and restricted the knight’s movement making him vulnerable to faster-moving opponents and weapons. The same is true of modern armor.

If you have ever worn a Kevlar vest with steel plates for extra protection, you will understand how heavy and restrictive they are. Body armor designers are constantly looking for ways and new materials to make the armor more practical and lighter, and in graphene, they have found that answer!

Graphene Armor Is Incredibly Strong 

image at an atomic scale

Now, you would think that material this thin would be pretty weak when stopping projectiles, but when researchers delved deeper, they discovered something truly amazing! Because graphene is as thick as a single atom, researchers couldn’t test it on bullets, so they found an ingenious alternative.

Recent studies suggest that graphene’s properties of the single carbon layer can absorb impacts that would easily punch through steel and that it is twice as effective in stopping bullets as the existing Kevlar ceramic materials are.

But how can something so thin be able to absorb such force? The answer lies in graphene’s family history and one of its closest molecular cousins, the diamond, and that graphene is currently the hardest material known to man.

Research at the City University of New York shows two graphene layers harden to diamond hardness under impact. Professor Elisa Riedo and her team have experimented with stacking two graphene layers and then analyzing what changes occur in the layers under effects.

What’s interesting here is that this ‘diamond hardening’ effect only happens with two layers of graphene; when adding more layers, this does not occur. The two-layer material was designated a new name – diamene.

According to Profession Riedo and per the research published on the university’s website, the diamene became stiff and rigid under pressure, more so than bulk diamond. Just two graphene layers could stop bullets more effectively than existing armor.

This research confirms other results from the team researching this same concept at Rice University, where the physics of how graphene absorbs and dissipates impact are casting new light on how effective graphene would be as armor.

Graphene Outperforms Kevlar And Steel In Impact Testing 

Because using bullets to test graphene is not viable, the team at Rice University in Houston had to devise other methods and protocols to measure the impact-absorbing properties of graphene. This research team is led by Edwin Thomas, a materials scientist and Massachusetts University Jae-Hwang Lee associate professor. 

Aside from the penetration into the target, the force of bullets striking a person or target is immense. One of the critical properties of body armor is its ability to absorb and dissipate the tremendous kinetic energy that projectiles deliver on impact. It was discovered that graphene is ten times more efficient at dissipating kinetic energy than steel.

For their experiment, they created layers of graphene up to 300 thick at a time and fired nano-spheres at the layers at ultra-high velocities of 1.9 miles per second, three times the speed of the bullet fired from an M-16 rifle.

To test how graphene reacts to high-speed projectile impact, the team used a micro-meter-sized glass projectile and fired it by heating gold filaments with a laser that, when vaporized, acted as the propellant for the glass bullet.

Achieving ultra-high speed velocities approaching 9000 feet per second, they observed how the graphene layers reacted when struck. To their amazement, they found that the graphene formed ‘cones’ at the point of impact and cracked outward in a radial pattern.

While this is a ‘weakness’ of graphene, the material outperformed Kevlar by double. It was ten times more effective than steel, and future designs could use multiple graphene layers or create a graphene composite material that would be even more effective as armor.

Graphene Armor Has High-Speed Impact Dissipation

image of diamond piercing through a diamond mesh Graphene Armor

Taking this data, the team could discern that the graphene could dissipate and distribute the force of the projective over a wide area at a very high speed. This term is known as ‘stress transfer,’ and graphene achieved distribution speeds of around 7217 feet per second which was the fastest stress transfer speed of any material ever tested, and it is faster than the speed of sound in the air!

The ability of this material to be elastic, strong, and stiff simultaneously makes graphene the perfect material for body armor. Plus, it is becoming cheaper to produce as research conducted by the same team proves that graphene can be created by ‘flash joule heating’ every day carbon-containing waste products to 5400 F in a second and making graphene in the process.

Graphene’s Tensile Properties Are Ideal For Armor

Aside from the structural strength, graphene has far better tensile properties than Kevlar or steel, which means it can be stretched out and return to its original shape without deforming this is a critical aspect of armor.

If you have ever seen tests done on body armor where the material has absorbed 50 or more rounds of ammo, you know the material deforms under heat and pressure. But, because graphene is super-effective in dissipating heat and has greater tensile strength, armor made from graphene could take multiple hits and still be 100% effective.

The implications for military and law enforcement are staggering as not only could they replace their existing Kevlar armor with a far lighter and more effective one, but the use of steel plates would not be necessary. Significantly increasing the survival rate of soldiers in the field but also making them far more mobile.

Could You Make Graphene Armor For Tanks, Spacecraft, And Ships

Aside from body armor, another field where graphene armor will make an impact is where armored vehicles and spacecraft are concerned. Existing tank armor relies on steel plating and ‘reactive armor,’ which uses composites to deflect projectiles from depleted uranium.

With spacecraft and other hypersonic planes, graphene armor would be used to reduce the effects of heat and energy dissipation, making it ideal as an additive to composite materials and reducing the risk of these crafts burning up in the atmosphere.

Aside from the hydrophobic properties which would make ships less vulnerable to saltwater corrosion, graphene armor could be applied to vessels, in the same way, offering sailors added protection from bullets fired during the battle that could penetrate the ship’s steel hull.

This research paves the way for other graphene armor applications like bulletproofing cars, cash vans, homes, and other structures.

Graphene resists laser pulse

Most recently, graphene has been shown to offer protection from intense laser pulses. In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers demonstrated that a composite structure made of graphene and hafnium oxide could absorb more than 90% of an incident laser pulse.

The researchers used this composite to create a nanodisk that was just 20 nanometers wide. They then subjected this nanodisk to an intense laser pulse with a wavelength of 800 nanometers.

The pulse had an intensity of 26.5 gigawatts per square meter, equivalent to about 1,000 times the sun’s intensity at Earth’s surface. Despite this tremendous energy, the composite held up well, with only a small amount of heating and no damage to the material.

How many layers of graphene sheets to stop a bullet

A graphene sheet must be at least four layers thick to stop a bullet. This is because graphene is incredibly strong in terms of tensile strength (the ability to resist being pulled apart), but it is not very good at absorbing impact energy.

A four-layer graphene sheet can stop a bullet because the top two layers take the brunt of the impact, while the bottom two layers help to dissipate the energy and prevent the graphene sheet from being pulverized.

How much does graphene armor cost

Graphene armor is still in development, so it has no set price yet. However, estimates suggest that it could cost up to $100 per square foot. That makes it significantly more expensive than traditional bulletproof materials like Kevlar, which can cost as little as $10 per square foot. However, graphene armor is much lighter and stronger than Kevlar.

So far, graphene armor has only been developed in small quantities, but the cost could drop significantly if it goes into mass production.

Round Up 

It’s clear from ongoing research that you can make graphene armor for just about anything. Think tanks and planes to personal body armor; graphene will change body armor for the better, and as more research is conducted, you can be sure that this incredible material will yield even more secrets.

It’s incredible to think that something discovered less than 20 years ago has already made such an indelible impact on our society and that in the future, its use in various armor will save lives and advance technology in ways we cannot yet imagine.

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