Nanotechnology, the study of materials and engineering on a molecular scale, has the potential to completely change the vehicles we drive.

We've looked at self-healing polymers that can eliminate scratches in paintwork, plastics injected with millions of tiny air bubbles to reduce their weight without losing strength, and additive layer manufacturing, building up components from incredibly thin layers rather than moulding, casting or milling. Now it's the turn of graphene, an incredibly strong yet incredibly thin graphite-based substance.

Automotive materials will have to start delivering in two key areas: weight, and strength. Graphene delivers in both - it has ten times the tensile strength of steel, despite being six times lighter. It's also twice as hard, yet has impressive flexibility too.

The University of Technology in Sydney has unveiled a sheet of graphene nano paper to demonstrate its strengh, despite being the same thickness as a regular sheet of paper.

The potential benefits of graphene are common to other advanced materials. You can use less graphene than you would steel without compromising on strength, which reduces weight and benefits performance, handling and economy. Graphene also has excellent thermal, electrical and mechanical properties so its use is potentially wide-ranging.

We recently joked that Audi's promotional papercraft A7 wouldn't be particularly strong - now, it may not be long before graphene technology allows real cars to use elements as thin as paper.

[University of Technology Sydney via Inhabitat]