Every so often throughout our history, Science discovers something so revolutionary, that it has the capacity to fundamentally change our lives.
Fifteen years ago, Scientists Andre Geim & Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester UK, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010, for their work in developing a method for extraction of Graphene at the single-atom layer.
Much like the development of Plastics transformed our lives in the 20th Century by creating products and solving practical problems by use of plastic based materials.
Graphene is being regarded as a game-changer material, and like all the best discoveries, this one is found in abundance in many forms, but continues to astound us by offering solutions to challenges previously thought intractable.
Graphene has been known since 1947, when it was first theorised that this material could reveal its electronic qualities of Graphite in its three-dimensional form.
Graphene is pure Carbon, but only one atom-thick, it is super strong, super conductive, and is today now starting to become commercially available.
It’s providing us with new insights into current technological hurdles and providing potential solutions, which could be the key to making the future happen sooner than later.
Its usefulness has already been demonstrated in many industrial research labs in Medicine, Avionics, Lubricants, Power supply, desalination, storage & transmission, to name but a few.
Of particular interest is in the potential to transform the way we create, store, and distribute power in the future. A future that by using Graphene, can change how we live our lives.
In India for example, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) have just signed a huge deal with China’s ZNShine Solar to provide Solar Photovoltaic (PV) modules that include a revolutionary Graphene film coating over the modules that increase the efficiency of the PV, but crucially acts as a 'self-cleaning' surface.
The cost saving by reduction of the cleaning & maintenance of thousands of installations, will not only help maintain efficiency of the panels, but reduce the costs of manually cleaning them, thus further reducing the running costs of PV yet again.
Graphene has shown to open new opportunities in storage of energy. In the UK, scientists at Cambridge University have worked out a method of releasing the 'super-conducting' properties that work crucially at room temperature- one of the holy grails of energy efficiency.
The material has also enabled the ultimate water desalination device. Scientists at MIT have shown (in simulations) that nanoporous graphene can filter salt from water at a rate that is 2-3 orders of magnitude faster than today’s best commercial desalination technology, reverse osmosis (RO). This could lead to more efficient and smaller water desalination facilities.
This is not the first time we hear of graphene membranes being used for water desalination. Lockheed Martin have developed a new energy-efficient graphene-based water desalination technology which places wholes that are one nanometre or less in a graphene membrane allowing water to pass, but not other molecules. The energy required to "push" seawater through these filters is very low because graphene is so thin. In fact, graphene is 500 times thinner than filters available today, and this filter will require about 100 times less energy.
Over in the US, Physicists at Kansas State University have created a method to mass-produce graphene in sheets of various thicknesses. They are presently working out how to scale up the process toward commercial viability.
Such key developments are now subject to ramping up the commercial side of Graphene production, and becoming possible to start to think about & plan for a new infrastructure for creating a Super-grid power system.
Over the next 20 to 40 years should see new super-efficient distribution of energy along graphene super-conducting cables which could be laid out and buried, as new systems roll-out.
Such a network would mean radical changes in how we think of energy use, since it would be so efficient, able to transmit & store power without loss of current through residual heat/resistance, and therefore loss at the consumption points.
This should make power generation cheaper, but also allow an increase in use of this power, as it becomes more economic to create and release power reliably and efficiently.
This material has the capacity to radically transform our industrial processes. Forward-thinking businesses, who today are actively looking to change how energy can be supplied via renewables, and use of these new technological advances, are investing to explore the range of uses, and limits of this new technological innovation.