ERDC partners with multiple universities on graphene research


By Jason Scott

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) technician Joey Bonelli subsamples a graphene-enhanced asphalt binder. This has the potential to increase asphalt strength and longevity.

Researchers at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) have started working with multiple applications for graphene, from graphene-infused asphalt and concrete to water filtration systems. This research has led to the development of a new initiative that brings together top research institutions and experts from the University of Mississippi (UM), Jackson State University (JSU), Rice University and the ERDC to explore graphene’s unique abilities in uses ranging from advanced materials-by-design to self-sensing infrastructure. Emerging materials such as graphene are driving fundamental changes in material performance with potential future military and civilian applications.

“This new initiative will continue a long legacy of ERDC partnering with academia and industry to advance emerging technologies in support of our warfighters and the nation,” says ERDC Senior Scientific Technical Manager Dr. Robert Moser.

This strategic ERDC partnership provides an opportunity to leverage expertise and state-of- the-art materials research from Rice University’s NanoCarbon Center and the UM Center for Graphene Research and Innovation (CGRI). The CGRI is also working with JSU experts on computational chemistry and synthesis of graphene. The CGRI executes graphene research and acts as a bridge with the other research universities, particularly within the state of Mississippi, private industry, and other government research and development organizations in the region.

“The objective of the project is to strengthen the partnership between the CGRI at UM and ERDC to conduct research in using graphene-based materials and to establish a testing facility at UM that will enrich research capacity in Mississippi, attract industry to the region, and enhance collaboration between Mississippi universities, ERDC, and broader Army users,” says Ahmed Al-Ostaz, director of CGRI at UM.  “We are very excited to have the opportunity of collaborating with ERDC researchers on this project and believe that the wide range of engineering applications in both force protection and force projection areas will greatly impact technology and spur innovators to develop new products and processes in areas of national interest.”

ERDC researcher Hayden Hanna uses a pilot-scale extruder to optimize extrusion parameters and improve nanophase dispersion of graphene/polymer nanocomposite materials.

James Tour and colleagues at Rice University recently discovered a process called flash Joule heating that produces graphene from any carbon source with low energy requirements and without the need for solvents or purification. As part of the initiative, ERDC researchers will advance novel flash graphene technology for many potential application areas.

“The flash process produces an unusual kind of graphene, known as turbostratic graphene, that is far easier to bring to applications than graphene traditionally produced in small amounts in a furnace,” Tour says. “Turbostratic graphene consists of misaligned flakes that are more soluble than the more-common, or AB-stacked, graphene, which tends to clump in solution. Turbostratic graphene is much easier to make, and we are learning to produce it in bulk. We’re confident that our ERDC partners will help us push this process to the limit.”

ERDC researcher Sarah Grace Zetterholm displays a graphene mat that can be used as a membrane in water filtration systems or as an absorbent to pull toxins out of water.

Altogether, this initiative will create a regional hub of innovation in partnership with ERDC for novel research and applications in graphene and other low dimensional materials that could be used to address gaps in advanced materials, composites and manufacturing processes that will contribute to outstanding military performance, sustainment, and readiness across many applications.

“Graphene production and research presents a unique opportunity to advance our national defense and infrastructure with next-generation materials,” says U.S. Senator Roger Wicker. “I am encouraged by the Army Corps’ efforts to bring these opportunities to our state’s skilled students and researchers at University of Mississippi and Jackson State University. Such industry and higher education partnerships could serve as a model for Mississippi and the rest of the country for the years ahead.”

“We should be very optimistic about the vast potential that this collaborative research initiative can have on our state and nation.  Advancing graphene technologies and applications could be a boon for our national security, energy future, and other areas,” says U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who helped secure federal funding to support this initiative. “I commend ERDC, Ole Miss, Jackson State, and Rice for reaching this point and look forward to learning more about its progress.”

The extramural research partnership, joining premier academic institutions and ERDC, will benefit the Army in improved force protection and projection capabilities in alignment with the Army’s modernization priorities and priority research areas, along with many spin-off civilian applications ranging from water treatment to resilient infrastructure.