Researchers from the University of Kentucky working in collaboration with scientists from Daimler in Germany and the Institute for Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL) in Greece have reported a new (theoretical) 2D material that could potentially rival graphene as the material of the future. The new material is made up of silicon, boron and nitrogen — all light, inexpensive and abundant elements — and is extremely stable, a property many other graphene alternatives lack.

While there are many ways to combine silicon, boron and nitrogen to form planar structures, only one specific arrangement of these elements resulted in a stable structure. The atoms in the new structure are arranged in a hexagonal pattern, as in graphene. The three elements forming the material all have different sizes; the bonds connecting the atoms are also different. As a result, the sides of the hexagons formed by these atoms are unequal, unlike in graphene.

The new material is metallic, but can be made semiconducting easily by attaching other elements on top of the silicon atoms. The presence of silicon also offers the exciting possibility of seamless integration with the current silicon-based technology, allowing the industry to slowly move away from silicon instead of eliminating it all at once. In addition to creating an electronic band gap, attachment of other elements can also be used to selectively change the band gap values — a key advantage over graphene for solar energy conversion and electronics applications.

Many other graphene-like rivals lack strength, as opposed to this newly discovered material. Silicene, for example, does not have a flat surface and eventually forms a 3D surface. Other materials are highly unstable, some only for a few hours at most. Now the team is working to create the material in the lab, and hope for a realistic verification of their theory.

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