An international team of researchers from the U.S., Hungary, Slovenia and India, led by Changsheng Xiang from Rice University, produced thin films of graphene nanoribbons mixed with thermoplastic polyurethane polymer, which can be used to make natural gas tanks in vehicles much more impermeable and light, increasing their efficiency.
The study, which appears in the latest issue of the American Chemistry Society journal ACS Nano, reveals the innovative technology, which could give the anticipated boost to the market of natural gas powered cars. In addition to this, the authors claim the new material could also help extending the shelf life of various foods and packaged beverage.
The development of the new material came as a result of a number of experiments, which involved mixing of single-atom-thick graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). The even dispersion of the ribbons through the new material made it nearly 1,000 times more difficult for gas molecules to penetrate through.
Although a standard and practical procedure for mass production of graphene is not yet established, such one already exists for graphene nanoribbons. Since 2009, when their name first appeared in the journal Nature, GNRs have been produced industrially, and therefore sold at a reasonable price.
According to James Tour, the owner of the Rice Lab, GNRs are much easier and better to process into composites than graphene is, thanks to their geometry. When the GNRs were treated with hexadecane and TPU, the produced material was found nearly as effective in containing the gas molecules as a sheet of graphene. Through a number of evaluation tests, the team was able to find the optimal ratio between the two constituents in order to enhance the strength of the material the most.
Besides its possible application in the natural gas car industry, the authors also find the material very suitable for making containers that can help preserving and extending the shelf life of fizzy drinks, like soda or beer. Using this material to make bottles or cans, will give the oxygen molecules a hard time trying to get in and turn beer into an undrinkable substance, or the carbon dioxide to escape from the inside.