Synthesis of soluble graphite and graphene

K F Kelly, W E Billups
Accounts of Chemical Research 2013 January 15, 46 (1): 4-13
Because of graphene's anticipated applications in electronics and its thermal, mechanical, and optical properties, many scientists and engineers are interested in this material. Graphene is an isolated layer of the π-stacked hexagonal allotrope of carbon known as graphite. The interlayer cohesive energy of graphite, or exfoliation energy, that results from van der Waals attractions over the interlayer spacing distance of 3.34 Å (61 meV/C atom) is many times weaker than the intralayer covalent bonding. Since graphene itself does not occur naturally, scientists and engineers are still learning how to isolate and manipulate individual layers of graphene. Some researchers have relied on the physical separation of the sheets, a process that can sometimes be as simple as peeling of sheets from crystalline graphite using Scotch tape. Other researchers have taken an ensemble approach, where they exploit the chemical conversion of graphite to the individual layers. The typical intermediary state is graphite oxide, which is often produced using strong oxidants under acidic conditions. Structurally, researchers hypothesize that acidic functional groups functionalize the oxidized material at the edges and a network of epoxy groups cover the sp(2)-bonded carbon network. The exfoliated material formed under these conditions can be used to form dispersions that are usually unstable. However, more importantly, irreversible defects form in the basal plane during oxidation and remain even after reduction of graphite oxide back to graphene-like material. As part of our interest in the dissolution of carbon nanomaterials, we have explored the derivatization of graphite following the same procedures that preserve the sp(2) bonding and the associated unique physical and electronic properties in the chemical processing of single-walled carbon nanotubes. In this Account, we describe efficient routes to exfoliate graphite either into graphitic nanoparticles or into graphene without resorting to oxidation. Our exfoliation process involves the intercalation of lithium into bulk graphite to yield graphene sheets reduced by the lithium. We can alkylate the resulting graphite salt reductively using solubilizing dodecyl groups. By probe microscopy, we show that these groups are attached covalently only at the graphitic edges.

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