Breakthrough: Electricity from Graphene and Water

We’ve mentioned some of the remarkable properties of graphene here before, and here’s some news that shows the potential of the single- atom-thick-material for energy production.

A research team at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics have published an article in Nature Nanotechnology describing how they have discovered a method of producing electricity by dragging saltwater droplets over graphene. The team discovered that when an unbalanced drop of water interacts with graphene, electrons are desorbed at one end of the drop and absorbed at the other end, thus creating a potential difference, and a voltage. When a water drop is stationary, there is no potential difference, and therefore no voltage is generated.

More information is available at Phys.org here: http://phys.org/news/2014-04-team-electricity-saltwater-graphene.html

In related news, the article above mentions that the process mentioned won’t be possible for widespread use for some time yet, because so far mass production of graphene is difficult and expensive. However, there has been an interesting breakthrough by a team from Trinity College Dublin in Irelend who have discovered a low cost method of producing graphene using an ordinary kitchen blender. An article in the Irish Times explains the method:

[Principal investigator professor Jonathan] Coleman and his group developed a water-based method to slide one sheet off the top at a time, like sliding one card after another off a deck of cards. The key to their method is floating graphite in water and spinning it up with a rotor which makes the graphene sheets separate from one another. They then add a “surfactant” that sticks to the sheets and keeps them apart.

“We just used a little bit of soap in the water,” Coleman said. “You could probably do it at home in a kitchen blender. We demoed the process in a Kenwood blender from Argosworth €39.95 and added a bit of Fairy Liquid. You can sell this as a green process.”

This was an advance that “USA, China, Australia, UK, Germany and other leading nations had all been striving for and have not yet achieved”, said Minister of State for Research Sean Sherlock. The breakthrough showed that the Government’s strategy of backing science while encouraging industry links was working, he said.

I think it’s fascinating to see the progress being made in the development of graphene, and simple discoveries like the one mentioned above show that progress might be made faster than we currently suppose. The idea of using water and graphene together to generate electricty is of course a highly intriguing one — and a development worth watching.

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