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New graphene recipe could finally bring the wonder material into electronics

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Having trouble turning graphene into a blazing semiconductor much faster than silicon? Try baking it from silicon carbide. Remember to etch it with a high energy beam. Follow the steps inside...

Engineers have worked graphene into solar cells. Could the sun now rise on graphene semiconductors?

Scientists in Germany and Sweden have cooked up a new recipe for graphene that could finally turn the wonder material into the super gourmet electronics dish that it is meant to be and usher in a new era of blazing and less power hungry computing.

As is generally known, graphene is a one-atom thin sheet of carbon that has the strength of Superman and could move electrons 100 times faster than today's silicon semiconductors.

That's the theory, anyway.

Although graphene has worked its way into rudimentary solar cells, engineers have so far failed at harnessing it into a bonafide semiconductor for computers. They've had to tamper with it in a manner that degrades its performance and knocks it out of superstardom. They've struggled to attach contacts to the ultra-thin sheets.

Now, according to the BBC, a German and Swedish team thinks it has found the cure: produce graphene by baking it out of another substance, silicon carbide.

A group from Germany's Friedrich-Alexander University had described in 2009 how it could tease graphene out of silicon carbide by cooking it. But on its own that technique did not yield a breakneck graphene semiconductor.

The BBC story implies that, in partnership with Swedish research institute Acreo AB, the scientists are now first etching channels into the silicon carbide using a combination of "a high energy beam of charged atoms" and throwing in some hydrogen gas.

The hydrogen marks how the graphene was bonded to the silicon carbide, and defines either a conducting or semiconducting area - distinctions necessary for a semiconductor to work.

"That's really what they've nailed: controlling that last little bit of bonding to make one type of contact or another," Dr. Quentin Ramasse a researcher from the SuperStem Laboratory in Daresbury, UK told BBC News.

"That's what the hold-up has been, being able to tailor that contact to suit whatever you want to use it for, and have it all in the one chip."

Image: Christine Daniloff from grapheneinfo.com.

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure