First Nanoribbons of Phosphorene Are a Major Materials Breakthrough

Researchers have developed the first nanoribbons out of phosphorene, the phosphorous equivalent of graphene, opening the door to faster-charging batteries and improvements in electronics.

Graphene is widely known as a wonder nanomaterial, with myriad scientific uses because of its light weight and high electrical conductivity, among other useful characteristics.

Now a team of researchers has created the first nanoribbons out of phosphorene—the phosphorus equivalent of graphene—reporting new material properties that pave the way for potentially even more valuable uses that graphene for fast-charging batteries, electronics, and other uses.

Creating a Greater Range

While nanoribbons have been made from graphene as well as other materials, phosphorene nanoribbons produced by researchers from University College of London (UCL)—alongside collaborators from the University of Bristol, Virginia Commonwealth and University and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne—have a greater range of widths, heights, lengths, and aspect ratios, researchers said.

The team formed quantities of high-quality nanoribbons of phosphorene using crystals of black phosphorous and lithium ions that can be produced at scale in a liquid that could then be used in volume at low cost for applications, said Professor Chris Howard in the UCL department of physics and astronomy.

“We’re reporting the first method to produce a new nanomaterial: phosphorene nanoribbons,” he explained to Design News. “These materials are tiny ribbons that can be a single atomic layer thick under 100 atoms wide but millions of atoms long, made from pure crystalline phosphorous.”

Researchers have for the first time created nanoribbons out of phosphorene, the phosphorous equivalent of graphene, paving the way for myriad new applications for the 2d material. (Image source: University College of London) 

Like Cables Spanning The Golden Gate

The ribbons form with a typical height of one atomic layer, widths of 4-50 nanometers and are up to 75 micrometers long, the team reported. This aspect ratio is comparable to that of the cables spanning San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge’s two towers.

The invention is significant in that since 2-dimensional phosphorene was first isolated five years ago, researchers have anticipated that nanoribbons of the material would have  “a very wide range of interesting properties, transformative potential in several different application areas, and exotic physical effects,” Howard told Design News. However, until now, no one has ever managed to create nanoribbons from phosphorene.

This recent work now could put phosphorene and its myriad uses on par with graphene in the materials science world, he said.

“We hope that with our discovery, phosphorene nanoribbons becomes a field in its own right, similar to graphene nanoribbons, which are studied by hundreds of groups worldwide,” Howard said. Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nature.

Success Where Others Failed

Howard’s team succeeded where others failed is in its use of lithium ions, which “seem to scissor the phosphorus sheets into ribbons,” he said. “Moreover, our process produces high-quality ribbons at a scale that could now enable measuring these properties, and testing the ribbons in various applications,” Howard added.

As mentioned, the applications for the work are many, include batteries, solar cells, thermoelectric devices for converting waste heat to electricity, photocatalysis, nanoelectronics, and in quantum computing, he said.

For example, the nanoribbons have great potential to create faster-charging batteries because they can hold more ions than can be currently stored in battery materials, Howard explained.

The team plans to continue its work by measuring the properties of the ribbons and trying to understand how they can be tuned for specific applications, he said.

“For example we are working to understand optical properties and electronic properties by various light-scattering experiments and also by making the ribbons into tiny devices,” Howard said.

Researchers also want to explore initial application of the nanoribbons in batteries and solar cells and are inviting other experts to collaborate in their work to expedite the research, he added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


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