Graphene is truly a 21st-century wonder material, finding use in everything from solar cells to batteries to tiny antennas. Now, however, a group of European research institutes have joined forces to create a graphene knock-off, that could prove to be even more versatile.

Conventional graphene takes the form of a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, linked together in a honeycomb pattern. Along with being transparent and conductive, it is also both the world's thinnest material, and the strongest.

The artificial graphene has the same honeycomb structure, but is made from nanometer-thick semiconductor crystals instead of carbon atoms. The chemical makeup, size and shape of those crystals can be tweaked, essentially custom-tuning the properties of the material to the desired application.

It could conceivably be used in many of the same places in which graphene is currently utilized, but with even better performance. According to project partner the University of Luxembourg, “'Artificial graphene' should lead to faster, smaller and lighter electronic and optical devices of all kinds, including higher performance photovoltaic cells, lasers or LED lighting."

Other institutes helping to develop the material include the Institute for Electronics, Microelectronics, and Nanotechnology (IEMN) in France; the Debye Institute for Nanomaterials Science and the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Utrecht, in The Netherlands; and Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Physical Review X.