FromQuarkstoQuasars

Graphene Gel: The Future of Energy Storage?

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Image Credit: Monash University

For individuals living in 21st century society, most of our biggest concerns center around energy. With a population that now exceeds 7 billion people, our need for energy keeps growing. Today, our need is even more desperate, as many of the conventional ways of obtaining the natural resources that are needed for energy production lead to various environmental issues. Ultimately, how to solve our energy crisis is a question that plagues scientists, corporations, and, well, everyone.

A topic that goes hand in hand with the production of energy is the storage of energy; a budding scientific field. Recent research reveals that a combination of two inexpensive and easily attainable substances could revolutionize the way we store energy by giving us a system that not only keeps a charge twice as long as all other carbon based technologies, but can be fully recharged in seconds. Those two substances? Graphite and water.

Before we continue, graphite is an allotrope of carbon and is most commonly used in pencils. Thankfully, due to its stability, it can be used in thermochemistry as the standard state for defining the heat of formation of carbon compounds. Not only is it the most stable form of carbon, but it can also be used as an electrical conductor, which has led to the research that has now given us Graphene. This creation has been dubbed a “miracle material” by some researchers.

How Graphene sheets look molecularly (Credit: Monash University)
How Graphene sheets look molecularly (Credit: Monash University)

Traditionally, graphene is a one atom thick layer of graphite that is arranged in hexagonal patterns. Together, this arrangement has  incredible physical, thermal, and electrical properties–properties that are exponentially more viable because of a very high surface area. However, it also has many problems. The primary reason why graphene has never been used to store energy is because of its structure. You see, once the thin sheets of graphene are stacked on top of another stack, they immediately begin to bond together, forming graphite (which, for all intents and purposes, is useless in energy storage). This formation diminishes the surface area and reduces the amount of electrical charge it can hold. Yet, once water is added to the mix, an interesting reaction takes place. By keeping the graphene moist, a repulsive force is provided that keeps the graphene sheets from bonding.

By placing this gel in supercapacitors, future electronic devices – such as smart phones – will have an almost indefinite lifespan and will be able to be recharged in seconds. The gel could also have applications in water purification membranes, biomedical devices, and sensors. So who knows what tomorrow may hold.

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