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Is Making Fuel Out of Thin Air Possible? Scientists Thinks So; Weak Spot of Ultra-Strong Graphene May Revolutionize Fuel Cell Technology

Dec 03, 2014 10:23 PM EST | By Adelyn Torralba
Air Fuel, Fuel Discovery, Discoveries, Science, Science Discovery, Science News, Science Latest Discovery

After news about self-filling water bottle had its own buzz, another surprising discovery about the ultra-strong graphene is now being talked about. Making fuel out of thin air sounds like a joke but after a recent study, British researchers said it could be possible.

Dubbed as a revolutionary discovery, Britain-based researchers figured out that the "world's thinnest, strongest and most impermeable material," graphene, has its weak spot which allows protons to pass through it.

Led by Machester Univesity's Andre Geim, a group of British scientists have recently made a considered breakthrough finding that can revolutionize fuel cell technology. Graphene discoverer, Geim and his group said the study "raised the possibility that, in future, graphene membranes could be used to "sieve" hydrogen gas from the atmosphere to then generate electricity."

"We are very excited about this result because it opens a whole new area of promising applications for graphene in clean energy harvesting and hydrogen-based technologies," Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo, a co-researcher, said.

Geim, along with his colleagues, were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2010 after they first isolated graphene in 2004. The material is known as the thinnest material on earth which measure one atom thick. On the other hand, graphene is 200 time stronger than steel.

Graphene is also known for its impermeability feature to all gases and liquids. Because of this trait, this material is commonly used in corrosion-proof coating, impermeable packaging, and super thin condoms.

Published in Nature journal, Geim and his co-researchers tried the impermeability of graphene to hydrogen. The Manchester University researchers tested "whether protons, or hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons, were also repelled."

Contrary to what they have expected, scientist found out a weak spot of graphene where protons can easily pass especially when temperature is raised and once they covered graphene films with nanoparticles like platinum.

This recent finding means "graphene could in future be used in proton-conducting membranes, a crucial component of fuel cell technology." Geim and his team also figured out that "graphene membranes could be used to extract hydrogen from the atmosphere."

Because of this, graphene membrane can possibly be combined with fuel cells "to make mobile electric generators powered by nothing more than the tiny amounts of hydrogen in the air."

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