Pennsylvania State University researchers and colleagues have found a new way to scale-up graphene production. The breakthrough, scientists say, was found via a friendly bet.

The researchers say that intercalation, an old method that relies on foreign molecules or ions to separate carbon sheets apart, can be used to increase production of graphene.

Graphene is a two-dimensional material that is incredibly strong and can conduct heat and electricity. Several research groups are using the material to create next-generation electronic semiconductors.

"There are lots of layered materials similar to graphene with interesting properties, but until now we didn't know how to chemically pull the solids apart to make single sheets without damaging the layers," said Thomas E. Mallouk from Penn State.

The material can be commercially viable if it can be produced on a large scale. In the current study, the researchers showed that intercalation of graphite can be used to obtain graphene. This method was first described in 1841, but was almost always used with a strong oxidizing or reducing agent. The strong chemicals altered some of the most valuable properties of the material.

Nina Kovtyukhova, a research associate in Mallouk's lab, demonstrated a new process in 1999 that increased efficiency of the process.

Mallouk and team have demonstrated that Kovtyukhova method of separating layers of boron nitride without using the oxidizing agent is still as effective as the older method.

Initially, Kovtyukhova was sceptical about not using an oxidizing agent in the study. However, Mallouk convinced her otherwise.

"I kept asking her to try it and she kept saying no," Mallouk said in a news release. "Finally, we made a bet, and to make it interesting I gave her odds. If the reaction didn't work I would owe her $100, and if it did she would owe me $10. I have the ten dollar bill on my wall with a nice Post-it note from Nina complimenting my chemical intuition."

The researchers said that the latest method is not only effective in pulling apart layers of graphene and boron nitride, but also other layered structures. In the next part of the study, the team will try to find a way to further increase production of graphene.

The study is published in the journal Nature Chemistry.