An unexpected property of a form of carbon graphite the material in pencil lead could revolutionize green energy development.
Positively charged hydrogen atoms or protons are allowed to pass through graphene although it remains totally impermeable to all other gases, including hydrogen itself, said a report by The Independent on Wednesday.
The new finding could significantly increase the efficiency of fuel cells that generate electricity directly from hydrogen.
The discovery means hydrogen fuel could probably be extracted from air and burned as a carbon-free source of energy in a fuel cell so as to produce electricity and water with no harmful waste products.
“In the atmosphere there is a certain amount of hydrogen and this hydrogen will end up on the other side [of graphene] in a reservoir. Then you can use this hydrogen-collected reservoir to burn it in the same fuel cell and make electricity,” said Professor Sir Andrei Geim of Manchester University.
Grapheme is the thinnest known material, a million times thinner than human hair, yet it is more than 200 times stronger than steel.
The one-atom thick material has astounded scientists multiple times since its discovery 10 years ago.
Allowing protons through is not a practical possibility, yet its formation of an impenetrable barrier to other atoms and molecules is considered the breakthrough.
“There have been three or four scientific papers before about the theoretical predictions for how easy or how hard it would be for a proton to go through graphene and these calculations give numbers that take billions and billions of years for a proton to go through this same membrane,” Geim said.
“It’s just so dense an electronic field it just doesn’t let anything through. But it’s a question of numbers, no more than that. This makes a difference between billions of years and a reasonable time for permeation. There is no magic.”
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