Using graphene to filter and desalinate saltwater

As the global population increases and water supplies become less predictable due to global warming, finding sources of clean drinking water becomes even more critical. Just ask residents of Cape Town, which expects to run out of water around April 12nd! The obvious solution is to desalinate ocean water, but that’s a very energy-intensive process. Well, researchers in Australia found a way to use a graphene film to act as a filter; its structure allows water molecules to pass through but blocks larger contaminant particles. Most membrane filters get clogged up quickly, but this one keeps working even as it gets coated in contaminants. It’s nowhere near a commercial product yet, but is a promising solution to a growing global concern.

(more at FastCompany)

Graphene body armor

I love graphene…this is truly a super material and I can’t wait until production methods are able to mass product it!  The latest potential application is in the construction of body armor, where it’s shown to have 8-10 times the stopping power of steel.  Pretty cool for just plain carbon!  Add this to graphene’s already impressive resume of, among other things, transparency, flexible, strong, able to create super-batteries, highly electrically conductive, etc.  Cool stuff (you can read more about the body armor study here).

Speaking of graphene, though…I was disappointed to see my daughter’s third grade spelling test recently.  One of the words was ‘grapheme‘…which I had to Google to find out what it was (it’s the smallest semantically distinguishing unit in a written language).  What a completely useless word that the kids will quickly forget.  The same spelling challenge could have been taught by asking them to spell graphene instead…and THAT is a word that will undoubtedly become as much of a part of their lives as ‘plastic’ is in mine!

Using hemp to make supercapcitors

Scientists have managed to take the inner bark from hemp plants, more of a waste product when hemp is used for clothing or building materials, and processed it into a material that is similar to graphene and can be made into a supercapacitor with similar performance – yet at a fraction of the cost.  Pretty cool application for an impressive plant.  Alta Supercaps is looking into small scale production.  Read more at the BBC.

3D printing with Graphene?

Graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms, is truly a ‘super material’, though one that’s still mostly existing only in labs and not everyday life.  Yet.  American Graphite Technologies is working on extrudable graphene which could then be used in 3D printers to enable new manufacturing possibilities for this fantastic material.  Just how good is it?  Well it conducts electricity well, conducts head extremely well, and is 200 times stronger than steel.  It’s also virtually transparent.  Pretty cool stuff, and regardless of whether they pull off this 3D printing, expect this material to become a part of your life soon.

(via Inhabitat)

There’s a new ‘world’s lightest material’ – graphene aerogel

aerogel_grapheneResearchers have managed to make an aerogel-like material using carbon nanotubes and graphene as the underlying support structure, with the result being an incredible light, elastic, sponge-like material.  With a density of only .16mg/cm^3, it’s incredibly elastic and can absorb 68 times its weight in organic compounds per second (important if, for example, this finds a use in containing oil spills).  Apart from that, I’m not really sure what the possible uses are, but it’s cool to see technology being used to make new materials like this.

(via phys.org)

Graphene supercapacitors to replace batteries?

There’s a lot of exciting work being done in battery technology…yet your future electronic devices may end up being powered by a supercapacitor instead if research into this area pays off.  Environmentally, it’s pretty awesome…graphene is of course carbon, which is plentiful and non-toxic (potentially, you could even throw a used graphene supercapacitor into your compost bin!).  These supercapacitors can store a lot of energy and be recharged extremely quickly (like 100-1000 times faster than a battery).  It’ll be interesting to see which wins out here…advanced battery technologies, or supercapcitors?  Stay tuned to Peak Geek for all the latest on that, and in the meantime, check out the video below describing these graphene supercapacitors (I love that word, especially as they didn’t mention ‘nano’ anything).

Electricity From Ambient Heat

While there are many methods of converting heat energy into electrical energy, they’re typically inefficient (thermoelectric) or need to be done at a larger scale (steam turbines).  Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University are showing promising results with a different approach.  You see, the atoms in a liquid are in constant motion.  They found that when copper ions collided with a strip of graphene immersed in a solution, the collision dislocated an electron out of the graphene, and it then traveled through the graphene strip, essentially replicating the function of a battery and illuminating an LED as a result.

As with any science, further tests are needed to verify the reaction and rule out secondary effects being responsible (such as chemical reactions).  If validated, though, this has enormous potential, for it would enable the generation of electrical energy from any heat source (something planet has no shortage of).  It’ll be interesting to see if this pans out.

Read more here.