A few years ago, world leaders convened to assess sustainable goals that all nations could collectively achieve to better the world’s people. While this may seem out of reach, the fact is that several common issues affect everyone.
Of course, this really comes down to solving the world’s biggest problems – and if it affects all nations, then it’s indeed a huge problem. But there’s one material that could help solve virtually all of them, and that’s graphene.
Graphene is viewed as a futuristic material to which its potential applications are growing daily. This fascinating material consists of carbon atoms that are tightly wound and arranged in a graphene sheet.
Amazingly, the thickness of graphene sheets is only one atom thick – making it the thinnest material ever made. Even more remarkable is the strength of graphene, as it is around 200 times stronger than even steel. And it is incredibly light as a square meter graphene sheet weighs just 0.08 grams, but it can support four kilograms.
Graphene coating is another natural application since it’s incredibly thin.
Ways that graphene can help solve problems
Needless to say, with its unique properties, this fascinating substance will likely play a huge role in future projects. Today, we are only aware of a few applications in which graphene will eventually be used.
Let us examine some of the applications that are currently anticipated.
One sad fact about the world’s people is that too many of them lack access to quality healthcare. Experts are hopeful that graphene can have an impact on this situation.
Since graphene is very strong, it is a perfect candidate for eventually replacing body parts – especially bones. Since the material is conductive, it could replace those body parts that must have electrical currents, like nerves and organs.
A research team from the Michigan Technological University has been working on a project where 3D printers make graphene-based nerves. Additionally, the team is also developing a biocompatible material using the conductivity of graphene for conducting electricity.
Scientists have also told us that graphene is perfect for making biomedical sensors that can detect viruses, diseases, and other toxins. The sensitivity in these graphene sensors is much greater than traditional sensors because every single atom in a graphene sheet is exposed because of its one atom thickness.
An example of this is graphene oxide sensors capable of detecting toxins at levels some ten times lower than today’s sensors. Their vision is to perhaps place these sensors on top of or underneath the skin to provide researchers and doctors with massive amounts of health information.
In fact, Chinese researchers have developed a sensor that will detect one single cancerous cell. Furthermore, University of Manchester scientists have reported that graphene oxide can hunt down and neutralize cancer stem cells. As one sees, huge possibilities are in the making.
Recently, the United Nations (UN) estimated that water scarcity affects over 40% of the world’s population. Sadly, this number is projected to rise even higher.
One hopeful solution for this dilemma is graphene-based filters. Scientists from the University of Manchester are helping to create a scalable graphene oxide sieve that can filter ordinary seawater. Even better news is that these membranes will not only be used for desalination, they can also be used to filter out specific ions according to their respective sizes.
Furthermore, scientists from the Universities of Kentucky and Monash University are developing graphene filters that remove anything bigger than one nanometer. This means that they could filter out bacteria, viruses, or chemicals from an entire range of liquids. Water, dairy products, or wine could be easily and quickly purified.
As time pushes on and the world becomes more industrious and more developed, its collective carbon emissions tend to grow along with it – when using traditional processes. As we all know, this is a massive contributor to global warming and climate change.
Experts are turning to these graphene sheets for a solution. Thus, graphene membranes have been created to capture some of these carbon emissions.
Researchers from the Universities of South Carolina and Hanyang in South Korea have teamed up to pursue this project. Their research team has developed graphene-based filters to separate these unwanted gases from commercial, residential, and industrial carbon emissions.
Some experts in the field have viewed this project as a ‘holy grail.’ They are hopeful that these graphene membranes could stem the increases of CO2 in the world’s atmosphere. This is critical since the world has crossed the significant 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold.
Another area where graphene could be helpful is in addressing the world’s failing infrastructure. Even the most developed nations in the world have problems maintaining their infrastructure.
As a general rule, research has repeatedly indicated that when more graphene is added to a material, that composite improves. Consider the possibilities – this basically means that graphene can be added to construction materials like aluminum, concrete, steel, and so forth – and their components will become lighter and more robust as applied graphene materials.
Not only this, but resins have also improved from adding graphene. Researchers that have studied the use of graphene resins claim the composites have greater mechanical strength, more electrical conductivity, and excellent corrosion resistivity. This makes it perfect for making things like storage tanks and piping.
Since the world’s dependence on energy is expected to increase, finding sustainable energy sources becomes more and more vital. Graphene can play a massive role in building a sustainable energy grid because of its tensile strength, lightweight, and conductivity.
A perfect example of this is graphene solar panels. MIT researchers claim that it provides a means for developing low-cost, flexible, and transparent graphene solar cells that could even turn any surface into a source of electricity.
For instance, bigger yet lighter wind turbines can be developed from graphene composites.
Not only this but graphene is currently used for the enhancement of traditional lithium-ion batteries, which is now found in many consumer electronics. Researchers are also looking into using graphene aerogels for supercapacitors and the storage of energy. These applications will significantly contribute to the large-scale storage of renewable energy – something essential to the survival of the future world.
Over the next few decades, look for graphene to play a more prominent role in our world.
We have only scratched the surface as the many uses of graphene sheets. As we speak, new research is conducted, and new patents are filed regularly – therefore, look for great things from this excellent material.