Graphene – Carbon with Superpowers
By Murtaza Sariya

Carbon is one of the most versatile elements in the universe. By changing its structure and interaction with other elements, Carbon can be used to create the base pair of DNA (the foundation of all life) to the hardest substance known to mankind – the Diamond. This explains why there is an entire branch of science dedicated to it, called ‘Organic Chemistry’. Another allotrope of Carbon, called graphene is regarded as the most useful discovery mankind has ever made. A super-strong and ultra-light material, it straddles physics and magic. Graphene has properties that seem to break the laws of physics. These are some of the awesome applications that we’ve discovered.

Making Seawater drinkable

The greatest problem in the next decade is going to be access to clean water. The biggest irony of our existence is that more than a billion people suffer from water scarcity in a planet that’s 70 percent water, it’s not like we don’t have the ability to convert the salty seawater to potable water, it’s just that the filters are very expensive and it consumes a lot of energy. What started out as a way to clean up oil spills was discovered to also filter seawater into clean drinking water. With being just one atom thick, a graphene filter would be one of the thinnest and cheapest filters and its structure is suitable to let only water pass through filtering the various salt particles in the water. Once this goes mainstream, sea water desalination will make droughts and water scarcity a thing of the past.

Fast-charging batteries

Our current mobile phones with fast-charging features are really impressive, but they’d be nothing compared to the abilities of a mobile phone with a graphene based battery. Imagine, your phone completely charging within a few seconds. That’s not all, even electric vehicles that can take almost half a day to recharge fully will be able to recharge within seconds, making it faster than filling it with fuel.. What’s more, while our traditional lithium based batteries lose their efficiency over time, Graphene based batteries will be able to hold its rated charge for a very long time!

The World’s lightest and Strongest Material

Quite a lot of our material engineering research and development is to discover or create new materials that are either stronger or lighter (or both) than the current materials we have in our hands. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration when someone said that making a material that is super-light and super-strong at the same time will change how we travel, explore space, build homes, construct mega structures and even make medical instruments. When made into a sponge structure, Graphene is so light that it can be balanced over delicate objects. Graphene is also really strong when pressed into sheets, almost 10 times stronger than steel.

Super-efficient lighting devices

(Image Courtesy : Myung-Ho Bae/KRISS)

While quiet a lot of Graphene’s applications are still at the experimental stage, there is one graphene based product that has finally made a commercial presence. Developed at the University of Manchester (which was also the first university to make graphene sheets), the graphene coated LED bulbs are more efficient and longer lasting over the traditional filament-shaped LED bulbs. While not the most famous invention created from Graphene, the benefits from efficient and longer lasting lighting devices shouldn’t be underestimated. Also, they are cheaper than the traditional LED bulbs.

Barely discovered a decade ago, we’ve have made so much progress with Graphene research and development, with very strong support from various industries and governments that are already impressed with the initial projected applications of Graphene. As more money pours into the R&D and the more experienced our researchers become working with Graphene, we might just be able to conquer a material that will help humanity reach the stars.

Header Image Courtesy : Hinkle Group, CC
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