The days of an annual neoprene purchase could be long gone. Photo: Billabong.
Could This Nobel Prize-Winning Material Make Our Wetsuits Last (Basically) Forever?
Say hello to a little something called graphene.
A wetsuit that lasts more than a season? Yeah right.
Just a pipe dream in an era where neoprene super suits are churned out in Cambodian factories. Unless... could a little Nobel Prize-winning science could be changing the game?
Graphene is more than a buzzword on next season’s hangtags. It’s a real thing. At one atom in diameter, it’s the thinnest material known to man. It’s 200 times stronger than steel. And it may make wearing a wetsuit not so bad.
A little back story because it’s important. The material was first observed in 1962, but it wasn’t until 2004 when scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov “rediscovered” and isolated graphene that the material’s myriad applications began to be better understood. In 2010, the duo won the Nobel Prize in Physics “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”
Building a better wetsuit was never their intent, cool as that would have been. With big-time applications in semiconductor tech, electronics, battery energy and composites, there was more money to be made from graphene outside of the surf industry (if the Nobel Prize didn't give it away, this decision solified Geim and Novoselov as smart fellas). MarketWatch.com estimates that between 2016-2023, the graphene biz will be an $811 million industry.
“The suit of the present invention provides substantial strength and protection against cuts and abrasions. The implementation of graphene to a wetsuit protects the user from punctures from breakage and provides further protection.”
And now, Billabong will be the first surf brand to go to market with a suit that utilizes graphene. Sourced and designed by their wetsuit guru Scott Boot, the Furnace Graphene is billed as being “lighter, stronger, water…longer.” The material will appear in their 2019 fullsuit line.
The water finally started warming up down here in Southern California, but we can’t wait to give the new Billabong suits a test the next time there’s an upwelling and the water temps dip back down. If we could get to a point where everybody’s suits lasted a couple extra seasons that would be a good thing for surfing’s carbon footprint.
And for the record, this isn’t the first time science has stepped in to keep surfers warmer. While credit usually goes to Jack O’Neill for inventing the wetsuit, it’s now believed that UC Berkeley physicist Hugh Bradner was probably the guy that did it first.