Graphene: Building the future military

The strength and density characteristics of graphene make it the ideal candidate for personal protection, especially ballistic protection applications. A Spanish research team has created a nano-composite material reinforced with graphene that has improved it to withstand the impact of military ammunition.

Graphene: Building the future military
TAC-I-IIB is a tactical body armour system which features a smart hang-bag system. (Photo: MKU)

Graphene, which is two-dimensional carbon, is being touted as the next big thing that will change every aspect of complex military hardware in the near future. This revolutionary graphene which has most commonly been used in pencil is set to make revolutionary changes in the different military platforms and equipment like protection armour.

MKU using Graphene in Body Armour

Kanpur based MKU confirmed to Financial Express Online that they are using this in the body armour they are making. “The company has started using Graphene in the body armour for our customers,” said a top company official.

In an earlier conversation, Neeraj Gupta, Managing Director, MKU had said that his company has been investing a lot in R&D and product upgrade, “This is important as the focus is on making the body armour easier for soldiers to carry and be comfortable.”

Kavro SPV-XVIIA+ extra protection over vest is smart modular combination of an over vest and a specially designed plate carrier. (Photo: MKU)

Graphene in the Military -`New kid on the block’

One square metre of graphene is hardly 0.77 mg in weight. Yet, it is 200 times stronger than steel, but its density is akin to carbon fibre, which is five times lighter than steel. Military applications are one of the most extreme, owing to the harshest and difficult terrains in the world. Since the soldiers in the middle are performing extraordinary operations to protect them, military research globally is the most expensive endeavour. And graphene seems the perfect candidate for more research to understand its usage in the military.

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According to the information available in the public domain, the strength and density characteristics of graphene make it the ideal candidate for personal protection, especially ballistic protection applications. A Spanish research team has created a nano-composite material reinforced with graphene that has improved it to withstand the impact of military ammunition.

While graphene was strengthening the impact resistance in Spain, in the United Kingdom, graphene and silk are being tested to reduce the weight of personal protective armour. They successfully added graphene to silk, creating a lightweight, transparent yet sturdy material. The team believes that their silk graphene can also be used in space and medicine beyond the military.

“Graphene is set to aid military aviation majorly. Its robust properties make it ideal for components like the aircraft fuselage that sustains extreme temperatures. It can also be used in de-icing technologies. We have already seen graphene composites offer better impact resistance, making them ideal for helicopter and aircraft structures. Specifically for fighter aircraft, graphene-based paints can keep them off enemy radars by decreasing the radar footprint,“ Girish Linganna, Aerospace & Defence Analyst explained to Financial Express Online.

Graphite and diamond

While both graphite and diamond are isotopes of carbon, of course, they are day and night apart. Why so? This has to do with the arrangement of carbon atoms. In a diamond, each atom is directly connected to four other atoms. All these are equidistant. Hence, the strength of the bond between any two atoms is equal. However, in graphite, we observe that a carbon atom bonds with three other atoms in the same plane. These carbon atoms, in the same plane, when replicated, form a honeycomb sheet of carbon atoms. However, a carbon atom must bond with four other atoms to be stable. So, this sheet of carbon atoms weakly bonds with another sheet.

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“This difference in structure shows how the strength of the bonds relates to the strength of the diamond and the ease of writing with graphite. But if graphite is formed of sheets of carbon atoms, is it possible to isolate a single sheet?

This is a question that two researchers at the University of Manchester, UK, sought an answer to. They took a pencil and transferred some of the graphite to a tape. After that, they kept stripping off sheets using tape and its adhesive properties. Eventually, they isolated a single honeycomb sheet of carbon atoms known as graphene. Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, the researchers behind this feat, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010,” adds Girish Linganna.

Graphene, a single layer of graphite, carries extraordinary properties owing to its two-dimensional structure. It is incredibly robust and stable, conducts heat and electricity excellently, and is an excellent material for composite materials which are lighter and impact resistant.

Power up the EV industry

The revolutionary nature of graphene is not restricted to defence. We have witnessed many technologies intended for military use being repurposed for civil applications, with the internet being one primary example. Graphene is similarly capable of being the missing piece in the electric vehicles industry.

EVs are quickly gaining popularity, with governments being bullish on their prospects worldwide. However, a fossil fuel car’s ability to immediately recharge itself continues to irk prospective EV buyers. Graphene batteries could settle this once and for all. Graphene aluminium-ion batteries can store more energy and charge sixty times faster than a conventional aluminium-ion battery.

Not only can graphene batteries provide blazing fast charging, but they also make EVs safer. The past summer claimed many EVs which could not sustain the temperature, and their batteries combusted. With graphene, the ignitable electrolyte part of the lithium-ion battery will be replaced and add to the safety of the passengers.

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First published on: 04-10-2022 at 06:32:25 pm