Researchers of the Center for Multidimensional Carbon Materials (CMCM) within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS, South Korea), in collaboration with UNIST and Sungkyunkwan University teams, have reported the fabrication and use of single crystal copper-nickel alloy foil substrates for the growth of large-area, single crystal bilayer and trilayer graphene films.
The growth of large area graphene films with a precisely controlled number of layers and stacking order can open new possibilities in electronics and photonics but remains a challenge. This study showed an example of the synthesis of bi- and trilayer graphene sheets larger than a centimeter, with layers piled up in a specific manner, namely AB- and ABA-stacking.
The right choice of substrate is essential for the correct growth of graphene. Foils made only of copper limit the growth of bilayer graphene and favor uniform monolayer growth. It is possible to obtain multilayer graphene sheets on nickel film, but these are not uniform, and tend to have small "patches" with different thicknesses. Finally, the commercially available foils that contain both nickel and copper are not ideal. Therefore, the IBS researchers prepared 'home-made' single crystal Cu/Ni(111) foils with desired features, building further on a technique reported by the group in Science in 2018. Nickel films are electroplated onto copper(111)-foils so that the nickel and copper interdiffuse when heated and yield a new single crystal foil that contains both elements at adjustable ratios. Ruoff suggested this method and supervised Ming Huang's evaluations of the best concentrations of nickel to obtain uniform graphene sheets with the desired number of layers.
The IBS researchers grew bi- and tri-layer graphene sheets on Cu/Ni(111) foils by chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Huang achieved AB-stacked bilayer graphene films of several square centimeters, covering 95% of the substrate area, and ABA-stacked trilayer graphene with more than 60% areal coverage. This represents the first growth of high coverage ABA-stacked trilayer graphene over a large area and the best quality obtained for AB-stacked bilayer graphene so far.
In addition to extensive spectroscopic and microscopic characterizations, the researchers also measured the electrical transport (carrier mobility and band gap tunability) and thermal conductivity of the newly synthesized graphene. The centimeter-scale bilayer graphene films showed a good thermal conductivity, as high as ~2300 W/mK (comparable with exfoliated bilayer graphene flakes), and mechanical performance (stiffness of 478 gigapascals for the Young's modulus, and 3.31 gigapascals for the fracture strength).
The team then investigated the growth stacking mechanism and discovered it follows the so-called "inverted wedding cake" sequence as the bottom layers are positioned after the top one. "We showed with three independent methods that the 2nd layer for bilayer graphene, and the 2nd and 3rd layers of the trilayer sheet grow beneath a continuous top layer. These methods can be further used to study the structure and stacking sequence of other 2D thin film materials," notes Huang.
Ruoff notes that these techniques for synthesizing and testing large-scale ultrathin films could stimulate worldwide interest in further experimenting with single crystal Cu/Ni alloy foils, and even in exploring fabrication and use of other single crystal alloy foils.