Graphene Charges Atmosphere with Battery Running on Thin Air

Graphene - Superpowered?
Graphene – Superpowered?

Graphene, the wonder material made of carbon that’s impermeable to gas and liquids, could one day be used for hydrogen batteries,  based on research  at The University of Manchester.  The material that was first isolated and explored by a research team at the same university was found to allow protons to pass through, opening up the possibility of air-powered electric generators.

While it is known that hydrogen atoms, the smallest element, are blocked by graphene barriers, a research team led by Sir Andre Geim checked whether protons are also repelled by the material.  To their surprise, the protons got through, and with surprising ease.  The process was facilitated even further at elevated temperatures and plating with a catalytic film such as platinum or some other material.

This is expected to further the development of fuel cells, which use oxygen and hydrogen as fuel to create electricity.  These devices make use of membranes that only allow protons to pass through to work.  Current proton membranes also allow the fuel to pass through, which reduces their durability as well as their efficiency.  Using a graphene membrane will allow fuel cell producers to make these proton barriers thinner, and better at preventing fuel crossover, increasing their efficiency and reducing the possibility of poisoning.  This, in turn, is expected to improve fuel cell technology.

The research group also demonstrated that the graphene membranes can be used to extract hydrogen from humid air.  Combining hydrogen harvesting together with a fuel cell can lead to the development of an electric generator that is fueled by hydrogen in the air.

Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo, a PhD student and corresponding author of this paper, said: “When you know how it should work, it is a very simple setup. You put a hydrogen-containing gas on one side, apply small electric current and collect pure hydrogen on the other side. This hydrogen can then be burned in a fuel cell.”

So, you think that this is nothing but hot air?  All I can say is that the air is charged with possibilities that this discovery opens up.


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