Physicists have learned how to get graphene from household waste

Physicists have learned how to get graphene from household waste
Physicists have learned how to get graphene from household waste

Science is usually the opposite of witchcraft and magic. However, even Rumplestiltskin - a dwarf wizard who knows how to turn straw into gold - would be impressed with what modern scientists have thought of.

Researchers at Rice University report in the Nature Pages that they can turn any trash containing carbon (from food waste to old tires) into graphene. Recall that graphene is just one atom thick sheets of pure carbon atoms. Due to a number of amazing properties, it is often called the “material of the future”, and today graphene-based products and composites are widely used in all spheres of industry and science.

Why is this discovery so important? Modern methods make it possible to obtain an insignificant (in comparison with the needs of mankind) amount of this material with a suitable structure. Alternatively, an increase in the total amount of graphene with a noticeable decrease in its quality. However, thanks to the new technique, scientists are already producing up to a kilogram of excellent quality graphene per day literally from garbage, and this is a very impressive figure.

Because thin sheets of carbon atoms are arranged like a wire mesh, graphene is stronger than steel, conducts electricity and heat better than copper, and can serve as an impenetrable barrier to prevent metals from rusting. But since its discovery in 2004, high-quality graphene - either single sheets or multiple layers stacked together - has remained expensive to manufacture and purify on an industrial scale. This is less critical for miniature devices such as high speed transistors and efficient LEDs. However, current methods that produce graphene by vapor deposition are too expensive for high volume production programs. And approaches with higher throughput, such as peeling monoatomic sheets from lumps of mineral graphite, produce “spots” consisting of many layers of graphene, which make the material unsuitable for most operations.

Incidentally, in 2018, Monica Krachun, a physicist at the University of Exeter, reported that adding graphene to concrete more than doubled its compressive strength. Experiments with a turbostatic form of matter only solidified the result. As soon as only 0.05% by volume of flash evaporated graphene was added to concrete, the compressive strength increased by 25%. And graphene added to polydimethylsiloxane (ordinary plastic) increased its strength by 250%! So it is possible that the super-durable buildings of the future will also be made of materials based on graphene inclusions.