Researchers at Manchester University in the UK say their latest discovery involving graphene could be the most revolutionary advance in battery technology the world has seen. According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, graphene membranes may be used to harness hydrogen gas from the atmosphere in the same way a sieve would catch other materials larger than the holes in the sieve. This  development may be the starting blocks for electric generators that are powered by nothing but thin air.

Dr Sheng Hu, a post-doctoral researcher in the project said, “It looks extremely simple and equally promising…Because graphene can be produced these days in square metre sheets, we hope that it will find its way to commercial fuel cells sooner rather than later.”

This can all be achieved by utilising the remarkable physical properties of graphene; a substance with the same atomic structure as the lead found in a standard pencil. Graphene is already well known as a technological game-changer. The first two-dimensional crystal known to science; graphene is the thinnest, lightest and strongest object known. To put it into perspective, graphene is harder than diamond and 200 times stronger than steel. Graphene is also just one atom thick – more than a million times thinner than a human hair.

The substance is not only flexible, transparent and able to conduct electricity more efficiently than copper, because of all of these factors, the newly discovered substance is set to revolutionize our world. Everything from medicine, smartphones and wearable technology, right through to green technology too.

This latest discovery makes graphene an attractive substance to use in proton-conducting membranes, which are at the centre of modern fuel-cell technology. Fuel cells operate by using oxygen and hydrogen as a fuel, then converting the chemical energy produced by its input directly into electricity. The problem is however, that current membranes which separate the protons that are necessary for the process, are comparably inefficient, thereby allowing contamination in the fuel crossover.

The Manchester team discovered the protons passed through the ultra-thin crystals with relative ease. Even more so at raised temperatures and with the use of a platinum-based catalyst that was coated onto the membrane film.

The researchers also found that the membranes could be used to extract hydrogen from the atmosphere. The team said this harvesting could be combined with fuel cells to create a mobile electric generator, that would be fuelled simply by hydrogen that is present in air.

“When you know how it should work, it is a very simple setup. You put a hydrogen-containing gas on one side, apply small electric current and collect pure hydrogen on the other side. This hydrogen can then be burned in a fuel cell…We worked with small membranes, and the achieved flow of hydrogen is of course tiny so far. But this is the initial stage of discovery, and the paper is to make experts aware of the existing prospects. To build up and test hydrogen harvesters will require much further effort.”

We here at TechBeat shall await the outcome of the further necessary testing with baited breath.

[Image via iflscience]

SOURCE: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/12/23/tech/innovation/tomorrow-transformed-graphene-battery/index.html?eref=mobiles_republic