In his fascinating profile of the scientific minds behind graphene, John Colapino, writing for The New Yorker, concludes that despite its many advantages, the hype surrounding graphene is disproportionate to its actual uses.
Two years later, breakneck innovation at the finest laboratories across the world has resulted in a number of unconventional, potentially world-changing applications for graphene, as chronicled by tech magazine Endgadget.
Of the 72% of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water, only about 3% of it is fit to drink, with the rest taking the form of oceans, brackish lakes, and the like. The problem is compounded when you consider that seawater desalination is too expensive and energy intensive to implement on a wide scale.
But graphene filters are a game-changing innovation. Thanks to their incredibly fine size, measuring 100 nanometers (roughly the width of an atom), water molecules can pass through while salt molecules are trapped, allowing what was once thought impossible: simply filtering seawater to make freshwater.
Faster-charging, longer-lasting batteries
The weaknesses of lithium ion batteries are well-known, from fire risks to decreased battery life. But researcher Han Lin, based at Australia’s Swinburne University, has discovered a way to 3D print graphene batteries which charge more quickly and don’t deteriorate over time.
Rain-powered solar energy
The name might sound like a misnomer, but it’s actually quite simple: Chinese scientists from Yunnan Normal University and Ocean University coated solar cells with graphene, so that when it comes in contact with the natural salts in rainwater, electricity is generated. While efficiency can still be improved, this experiment is an important proof of concept that could bring solar panels to traditionally rainy, cloudy areas.
Commercially-viable, long life lightbulbs
Created by the University of Manchester, where graphene sheets were first unveiled in 2004, researchers coated filaments in graphene for longer-lasting, efficient lifespans. According to the BBC, graphene lightbulbs went on sale late last year, and are said to have a 10% reduction in energy use.
Light, spongy material to clean up oil spills
While cleaning up oil spills has traditionally been a key use of graphene, researchers at China’s Zhejiang University created a lightweight graphene sponge that can reportedly absorb up to 900 times its own weight in oil.
Though paper has been around since 740 C.E., it has always been known as a weak, especially fragile writing material that is susceptible to tearing and water damage, to name a few. Graphene-based paper, however, has ten times the tensile strength of steel, and is recyclable and conductive to boot–ensuring uses across a wide range of industries.
Graphite, the precursor material to graphene, is one of the most common resources in the world today and a versatile material with plenty of dynamic applications.