Samsung claims to have made a breakthrough that could speed up the commercialisation of graphene, paving the way for new types of mobile devices, wearable technology and flexible displays.

The South Korean electronics giant said it had worked with Sungkyunkwan University to uncover a new method of growing large area, single crystal wafer scale graphene.

Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. It is one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials known and its versatility means it has the potential to be commercialised in a range of industries, from computer chips to the wings of an aeroplane. 

Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) said: “The new method synthesises large-area graphene into a single crystal on a semiconductor, maintaining its electric and mechanical properties.

“In the past, researchers have found that multi-crystal synthesis – the process of synthesising small graphene particles to produce large-area graphene – deteriorated the electric and mechanical properties of the material, limiting its application range and making it difficult to commercialise.”

The laboratory leaders hailed their work as one of the “most significant breakthroughs in graphene research”, adding that the discovery should accelerate graphene’s commercialisation and “unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology.”

The research, published in Science Magazine and ScienceExpress, was funded by Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP), under the Project to Nurture Leading Creative Researching Experts Program.

At the end of 2012, South Korea, China and the US held the largest number of graphene patents, by some margin, despite the fact that graphene was first invented at the University of Manchester, in the UK.

Worldwide there were a total of 7,351 graphene patents filed by the end of 2012, according to figures published by a UK copyright consultancy, CambridgeIP. Of these, UK businesses and universities held only 54, compared to 1,160 in South Korea, 2,204 in China and 1,754 in the US.

Earlier this year, IBM claimed it had made a graphene breakthrough of its own, developing a chip that is “10,000 better” than previous chips.