I do not think I have seen a material with such a jack-of-all-trades quality as graphene. I’m sure many have not heard about it. Those who have know of the fantastical properties attributed to it. The weird part is that these are not urban myths or media hype. Graphene has the potential to do all the things that are said it can do, which will be explored here. I will focus more on the most economically viable uses.
Graphene is a structure of carbon atoms, one of a few allotropes. Another familiar allotrope of carbon would be diamond or coal. Diamond is a tetrahedral structure. Graphene is a sheet of carbon molecules one atom thick. If you stack graphene you get graphite, which is what the lead in your pencil is made of. If you want a technical overview you can look here (we’re not doing a peer-reviewed paper, Wikipedia is fine as a source).
Check out this article, to get a semblance of how graphene’s super material status takes comical levels. Graphene can basically repair itself. It is extremely impenetrable considering it is only an atom thick. It is an extremely efficient heat and electricity conductor. Let us jump right into exploring graphene’s potential, with the most important industry to all of us, the alcoholic beverage industry.
Like Separating Water from Oil
This I just discovered recently, after my initial research into graphene. I was aware of graphene’s ability to filter gas molecules, since the gaps were so small that they could capture even helium. Now I see that water vapor passes through with no problem, due to some property of graphene. Like the Wikipedia article says, in labs they have been able to take vodka to a higher alcohol percentage without the heat or vacuum measures normally used.
For those of you that have tried to get some drinkable water by melting ice by holding the container against your skin, you know that applying heat takes a lot of effort. All joking aside, applying heat needs energy and our common sources of energy cost money. They also require equipment like burners, piping, safety precautions, etc. And for those of you that have tried to make a cup stay stuck to your face, you know that producing vacuums also requires quite a bit of energy. It also requires a sturdy container or it’ll crumple.
Graphene on the simplest level allows you to put a filter at the bottom of a tube, force vodka down with pressure (far less than the negative pressure needed to create a vacuum so still lower energy use), and get high alcohol vodka. Obviously it’s not this simple, and there are much more complex methods involved, but it would really change the way it is done. Now moving away from alcohol, this property has important consequences for biofuels (which if I understand correctly has a lot of stuff in it that needs to be filtered out), and water filtration if it can filter out all the other nasty things we don’t want in our water.
An important thing I see is the potential for graphene’s use in desalinization. The Wikipedia entry is slim on this, and filters don’t solve the cheap, clean, and plentiful energy needed to do massive desalination. I always think in terms of vapor desalination, though there are other more complex systems with lower energy requirements. These are still very expensive. Water to vapor to pure condensate is simple, and I always like simple.
A Practical Hydrogen Economy?
Probably not for a variety of reasons. Graphene allows hydrogen to be stored in a lightweight tank. Graphene can hold hydrogen exceptionally well. This has implications for the tanks that go in cars as well as the ones that would go into the gas stations. Still not sure if this would make hydrogen cars practical (news on that has been slim as well), but its something to look at.
To Be Continued…
There are many more uses in graphene, thinking this article will run 2 or 3 parts total depending on my time constraints. Companies to look at though are CVD Equipment, ticker symbol CVV. They manufacture graphene through one of their subsidiaries. They do lots of other cool stuff. There are not many public companies you can look to as graphene suppliers. Lots of companies are exploring graphene such as IBM. IBM is doing lots of cool things, and if they can crack graphene’s secrets they could be on the bleeding edge again. Imagine IBM being a hot stock again. Don’t jump on this, I am being half-facetious. There is a long way to go, and all the stuff I’ve read about IBM points to mostly research not product development.