Electrical properties of graphite

Electrical resistivity: In electrical conductors such as metals, the attraction between the outer electrons and the nucleus of the atom is weak; the outer electrons can move readily and, since an electric current is essentially a flow of electrons, metals are good conductors of electricity. In electrical insulators, electrons are strongly bonded to the nucleus and are not free to move.

Electrically, graphite can be considered as a semi-metal, that is a conductor in the basal plane and an insulator normal to the basal plane. Its atomic structure is such that the highest-filled valence band overlaps the lowest-empty conduction band by approximately 36 meV and the delocalized fourth-valence electrons form a partially-filled conduction band between the basal planes where they can moved readily in a wave pattern as they respond to electric fields. Consequently, the electrical resistivity of graphite parallel to the basal planes is low and the material is a relatively good conductor of electricity.

In the c direction, the spacing between planes is comparatively large, and there is no comparable mechanism for the electrons to move from one plane to another, in other words, normal to the basal plane. As a result the electrical resistivity in that direction is high and the material is considered an electrical insulator. In some cases, it may be 10,000 times higher than in the ab directions. Often quoted resistivity values are 3000 ×10-6 ohm.m in the c direction and 2.5-5.0 ×10-6 ohm.m in the ab directions.

The electrical resistivity of the graphite crystal in the ab directions increases with temperature, as does that of metals. This increase is the result of the decrease in the electron mean free path, in a mechanism similar to the increase in thermal conductivity reviewed above in Sec. 4.3

The electrical resistivity in the c direction, however, decreases slightly with increasing temperature, possibly because electrons can jump or tunnel from one plane to another due to increased thermal activation.



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