Thursday November 27th 2014
According to The Independent, ‘A recently discovered form of carbon graphite – the material in pencil lead – has turned out to have a completely unexpected property which could revolutionise the development of green energy and electric cars.’
Researchers from Manchester University have discovered that graphene allows positively charged hydrogen atoms or protons to pass through it, despite being completely impermeable to all other gases.
The scientists say that the implications of the discovery are immense as it could radically increase the efficiency of fuel cells, which generate electricity directly from hydrogen.
Professor Sir Andrei Geim of Manchester University, said:
“In the atmosphere there is a certain amount of hydrogen and this hydrogen will end up on the other side [of graphene] in a reservoir. Then you can use this hydrogen-collected reservoir to burn it in the same fuel cell and make electricity.”
Since its discovery 10 years ago, graphene has astonished scientists. It is the thinnest known material, (a million times thinner than human hair) and yet more than 200 times stronger than steel.
The scientists’ study, which has been published in the journal Nature, shows that graphene allowed the build-up of protons on one side of a membrane, yet prevented anything else from crossing over into a collecting chamber.
In their paper, the researchers suggest that there could be many applications in the field of hydrogen fuel cells and in technology for collecting hydrogen gas from the atmosphere, which would open up a new source of clean energy.
Sir Andre added: “It’s really the very first paper on the subject so what we’re doing is really to introduce the material for other experts to think about it,” Sir Andrei said.
“It was difficult not to speculate. If you can pump protons from a hydrogen-containing gas into a chamber that doesn’t contain anything, you start thinking how you can exploit this?
“One of the possibilities we can imagine, however futuristic, which has to be emphasised because everything has been shown on a small scale, is applying a small electric current across the membrane and pushing hydrogen though the graphene or boron nitrite membrane.
“Essentially you pump your fuel from the atmosphere and get electricity out of this fuel, in principle. Before this paper, this wouldn’t even be speculation; it would be science fiction. At least our paper provides a guidance and proof that this kind of device is possible and doesn’t contradict to any known laws of nature.”