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Rice University has created new technology that takes the concept of one man’s garbage being another man’s gem to its logical conclusion. Banana peels, coffee grounds, single-use plastic containers, and coal are all being transformed into graphene, one of the most useful products on the market. Chemist James Tour and his colleagues have devised a quick method for converting large amounts of garbage into graphene flakes.
In a press release from Rice University, Tour said, “This is a huge deal.” “Food is thrown out 30 to 40 percent of the time because it spoils, and plastic waste is a global issue. We’ve already shown that every solid carbon-based matter can be converted to graphene, like mixed plastic waste and rubber tires.”
The importance of graphene is primarily due to its extraordinary strength and wide range of industrial applications. This material is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms that are bound by six chemical bonds to form a chicken-wire-like lattice.
Because of its high reactivity and strength, graphene is extremely useful in scientific experiments. It can also be applied to a variety of other materials to increase their strength or make them lighter, such as concrete or metals. Since it is the most conductive material, it is ideal for use as a heat sink in LEDs or smartphones. It may also be used in battery technology, paints, sensors, and a variety of other applications — there are much too many for this content to cover in one post.
Graphene isn’t yet a part of our daily lives, despite its high utility. One of the reasons for this is the prohibitive cost. According to Tour, graphene is difficult to manufacture in large quantities, with “the current commercial price of graphene ranging from $67,000 to $200,000 per ton.” Exfoliation, in which graphene sheets are stripped away from graphite, and chemical vapor deposition, in which methane (CH4) is vaporized in the presence of a copper substrate, which grabs the methane’s carbon atoms and arranges them as graphene, are two common techniques.
The new method, known as flash Joule heating, is much easier to use, less expensive, and does not require any dangerous solvents or chemical additives. Simply stated, a carbon-based material is heated to 2,760 degrees Celsius (5,000 degrees Fahrenheit) for just 10 milliseconds. Any chemical bond in the input material is broken as a result of this. Except for carbon, all atoms in this proof-of-concept system transform into gas, which escapes but could be captured in industrial applications. The carbon, on the other hand, reassembles as graphene flakes.
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Furthermore, this method creates “turbostatic graphene.” Other processes result in A-B stacked graphene, in which half of the atoms in one layer of graphene are stacked on top of the atoms in another sheet. This causes a stronger connection between the two sheets, making separation more difficult. Since there is no order between sheets of turbostatic graphene, they are easier to separate.
The researchers’ most obvious use for “flash graphene” is to use the graphene flakes as a part in concrete. “”We could use less concrete for building if we strengthened it with graphene,” Tour explained, “and it would cost less to produce and transport.” We’re essentially storing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that would otherwise be released by waste food in landfills. We’re turning those carbons into graphene and incorporating it into concrete, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released during the manufacturing process. Graphene is a win-win situation for the world.”
Concrete is one of the most popular uses for this material, and it is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly, but there are many others. We can expect a future of increasingly stronger, lighter, more advanced, and less environmentally harmful materials and technologies as this process and others for processing graphene in bulk mature.