Yes, yes, I know I’m a nerd but graphene is probably my favourite substance. Simply put it’s an ultra-thin, ultra-strong layer of carbon in a honeycomb lattice. It’s not perfect but it is giving us new ways to approach problems that we thought might never be solved. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before because it has so many uses that will hopefully stem our addiction to destructive forms of energy production. It’s also being developed for use in space because it’s unbelievably strong and lightweight, can conduct stunning amounts of power if its formed right. It’s even being looked at to make true nano-machines that can move through our bodies and deliver new drugs right to the place we need them so we could get rid of necessary but very unpleasant treatments like chemotherapy.
The latest thing I came across is another system for creating clean energy with clean water as a byproduct.
Hydrogen has yet to become a viable fuel source for cars because of the amount of energy it takes to make and the size of the machines used to make it. Cars with hydrogen engines have been touted and even built but they’ve been awkward and clunky and not much use. But with graphene we are seeing the first really viable possibility for a car that only produces water as ‘waste’.
To make hydrogen fuel you have to split the electrons and the protons from the hydrogen. Up to now it wasn’t a simple process because the membrane used as a separator would allow the wrong particles to end up in the wrong place and with so many other gases around it all got very mixed up: the fuel wouldn’t be clean. With graphene with works in a really clean way, using only air at either end of the process. It’s so conductive that the electrons shoot right down the graphene sheet to the battery and the protons slip through the lattice. They have to go somewhere though, to stop them from mucking up the process so they just join the oxygen in ordinary air and water is formed. It might all sound a bit underwhelming but the whole thing is accomplished quickly, cheaply and extremely efficiently and in a tiny space compared to existing models.
Manufacturers like Elon Musk are all over the idea and the guy who came up with it is probably on his way to a second Nobel Prize.