Graphene and Cheap Vodka / Fuel

Over on WUWT there was a posting about Graphene membranes potentially leading to dramatic reduction in the cost of desalinizing water. Interesting, and likely to lead to a whole lot of places that are not presently habitable becoming a great place to live and grow crops.

OK, very important to mankind and to life and the world economy and all…
but it’s just water…

Then there was an interesting article linked by Crosspatch in the new battery thread per the creation of large (DVD sized) sheets of graphene using a regular old DVD burner. Cheap and scalable mass production possible.

But what caught my attention was a link from the wiki on Graphene talking about how it lets water through, but nothing else. Say what?

In comments on the WUWT thread I’d speculated that odd things were likely down at the molecular scale; and got dumped on by a couple of folks insisting that things would be unchanged from regular scale… somehow thinking my statement was against the laws of thermodynamics or some such. I specifically stated that the laws of thermo would always hold, but they seemed to take that to mean “nothing unexpected” will happen.

Well, it sure looks to me like this article is saying unusual things happen at that scale!

Unimpeded permeation of water through helium-leak-tight graphene-based membranes

R. R. Nair, H. A. Wu, P. N. Jayaram, I. V. Grigorieva, A. K. Geim
(Submitted on 15 Dec 2011)

Permeation through nanometer pores is important in the design of materials for filtration and separation techniques and because of unusual fundamental behavior arising at the molecular scale. We found that submicron-thick membranes made from graphene oxide can be completely impermeable to liquids, vapors and gases, including helium, but allow unimpeded permeation of water (H2O permeates through the membranes at least 10^10 times faster than He). We attribute these seemingly incompatible observations to a low-friction flow of a monolayer of water through two dimensional capillaries formed by closely spaced graphene sheets. Diffusion of other molecules is blocked by reversible narrowing of the capillaries in low humidity and/or by their clogging with water.

You can download the whole PDF here:

This is seriously interesting…

Among other things, it means that water can easily be removed from things. Like fermented mash. Vodka on the cheap, in terms of energy. An entirely new economics to ethanol fuel production.

So not only can you separate water from salt, but also water from ethanol. One presumes ‘water from other stuff’ too.

It is also curiously odd that even helium doesn’t get through. Very strange.

“The measurements set up an upper limit on ΠHe of GO laminates as ≈10^‐15 mm×g/cm^2×s×bar, that is, our submicrometre‐thick films provide a higher gas barrier than 1‐millimeter‐thick glass

Golly. “Glass” like obstruction of gasses, but water flows through… I can see a real market for a hand held one of these for cleaning and desalinizing drinking water in emergency kits and on ships. (Can I patent that idea now? ;-)

Heck, in the desert you could pee in it and get pure water back.

Or, as the wiki described it:

Room temperature distillation of ethanol for fuel and human consumption

Graphene oxide membranes will allow water vapor to pass through, but have been shown to be impermeable to all other liquids and gases including helium . This phenomenon has been used for further distilling of vodka to higher alcohol concentrations, in a room-temperature laboratory, without the application of heat or vacuum normally used in traditional distillation methods. Further development and commercialization of such membranes could revolutionize the economics of biofuel production and the alcoholic beverage industry.

“Has been used”. Not just talked up.

So you can make a film in a DVD burner, and shove pure water out one side leaving ethanol on the other. (One presumes some kind of pre-filtering to remove solids and maybe even a rough fast low concentration distillation to leave other contaminants behind.)

Fresh water is nice, but a new way to make pure booze cheap? Very nice ;-)

That you can do it in a DVD burner and make supercapacitors with 1/2 the power density of Li batteries in the process? Priceless.

Semiconducting Carbon

Oh, and the wiki also points out IBM has made a variety of electronic parts out of it including junctions and transistors and even LEDs and logic circuits. All carbon.

Graphene has the ideal properties to be an excellent component of integrated circuits. Graphene has a high carrier mobility, as well as low noise, allowing it to be used as the channel in a field-effect transistor. The issue is that single sheets of graphene are hard to produce, and even harder to make on top of an appropriate substrate. Researchers are looking into methods of transferring single graphene sheets from their source of origin (mechanical exfoliation on SiO2 / Si or thermal graphitization of a SiC surface) onto a target substrate of interest. In 2008, the smallest transistor so far, one atom thick, 10 atoms wide was made of graphene. IBM announced in December 2008 that they fabricated and characterized graphene transistors operating at GHz frequencies. In May 2009, an n-type transistor was announced meaning that both n and p-type transistors have now been created with graphene. A functional graphene integrated circuit was also demonstrated – a complementary inverter consisting of one p- and one n-type graphene transistor. However, this inverter also suffered from a very low voltage gain.

According to a January 2010 report, graphene was epitaxially grown on SiC in a quantity and with quality suitable for mass production of integrated circuits. At high temperatures, the Quantum Hall effect could be measured in these samples. See also the 2010 work by IBM in the transistor section above in which ‘processors’ of fast transistors on 2-inch (51 mm) graphene sheets were made.

Well, if you can make it in a DVD burner, with a laser, I have to think that a single layer of starting material can be deposited and lased… This is starting to look like seriously interesting stuff. I note in passing that it has “Quantum Hall Effects”… so my assertion that we’re getting down to the area where QM effects start to show up also is looking justified…

Graphene’s high electrical conductivity and high optical transparency make it a candidate for transparent conducting electrodes, required for such applications as touchscreens, liquid crystal displays, organic photovoltaic cells, and organic light-emitting diodes. In particular, graphene’s mechanical strength and flexibility are advantageous compared to indium tin oxide, which is brittle, and graphene films may be deposited from solution over large areas.

So you can make a PN junction (needed for a solar cell) and transparent electrodes, along with a very tough substrate. Now that’s a solar cell I could like.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering lab reported the large scale production of highly transparent graphene films by chemical vapor deposition in 2008. In this process, researchers create ultra-thin graphene sheets by first depositing carbon atoms in the form of graphene films on a nickel plate from methane gas. Then they lay down a protective layer of thermoplastic over the graphene layer and dissolve the nickel underneath in an acid bath. In the final step they attach the plastic-protected graphene to a very flexible polymer sheet, which can then be incorporated into an OPV cell (graphene photovoltaics). Graphene/polymer sheets have been produced that range in size up to 150 square centimeters and can be used to create dense arrays of flexible OPV cells. It may eventually be possible to run printing presses laying extensive areas covered with inexpensive solar cells, much like newspaper presses print newspapers (roll-to-roll).

While silicon has long been the standard for commercial solar cells, new research from the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Spain has shown that graphene could prove far more efficient when it comes to transforming light into energy. The study found that unlike silicon, which generates only one current-driving electron for each photon it absorbs, graphene can produce multiple electrons. Solar cells made with graphene could offer 60% solar cell efficiency – double the widely-regarded maximum efficiency of silicon cells.

In Conclusion

It looks like folks are figuring out how to make this stuff relatively cheaply and in volume. It has some very interesting properties, including strength:

Graphene paper or GP has recently been developed by a research department from the University of Technology Sydney by Guoxiu Wang, that can be processed, reshaped and reformed from its original raw material state. Researchers have successfully milled the raw graphite by purifying and filtering it with chemicals to reshape and reform it into nano-structured configurations, which are then processed into sheets as thin as paper, according to a university statement. Lead researcher Ali Reza Ranjbartoreh said: ‘Not only is it lighter, stronger, harder and more flexible than steel, it is also a recyclable and sustainably manufacturable product that is eco-friendly and cost effective in its use.’

All that, and it can be used to pour a neat Vodka too?

What’s not to like?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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14 Responses to Graphene and Cheap Vodka / Fuel

  1. BobN says:

    I’m responding before reading as what you said is EXTREMELY Exciting. Rice University in Houston Texas has pioneered a lot of work on battery terminals and has been able to greatly improve battery characteristics. The Graphene terminals allow for faster charge and more charge and they don’t deteriorate like a normal post. They are talking of batteries with double the current capacity and very quick charges. This looks promising for fast recharge usage on cars, but the Graphene production was the limiter.
    I know they are looking at Graphene for use in fuel cells. Haven’t figured how as yet, but it is mentioned in some of the science articles.
    What gets me excited is using this technology on 3D printers. There are researchers looking at this and if they can get it to work properly, they think that people will soon be able to design and print their own form of integrated circuits. That will put electronics back in the garage environment for Silicon Valley.

  2. DirkH says:

    BobN says:
    28 March 2013 at 6:41 am
    “I know they are looking at Graphene for use in fuel cells. Haven’t figured how as yet, but it is mentioned in some of the science articles.”

    Perforated graphene sheets for cheaper membranes. Currently the membranes are fickle and expensive.

  3. BobN says:

    @DirkH – I think the present membranes are done with Platinum and are the expensive part of a fuel cell. If this works as you mention, the price of a fuel cell could plummet.

  4. Petrossa says:

    But, but graphene is the dreaded carbon isn’t it? Shouldn’t carbontax apply?

  5. PhilJourdan says:

    Interesting! I am not sure if it was you, or I picked this up from someone else, but the Carbon nano Coating I first ran across was for water repellents. And it appears absolute!

    So it seems natural that if you can open a door one way, you can go through the door either way. I guess reversing the nano tubes means it will ONLY allow water to pass through?

    The future seems to be in manipulating individual atoms and molecules to do what we want and need. It is an exiting time to be alive!

  6. P.G.Sharrow says:

    Long, long ago GOD discovered Carbon was the most versatile material for creating active systems. Silicon is way too slow. The age of Silicon is nearly over and the age of Carbon is starting. :-) pg

  7. Gail Combs says:


    Think about this. If this can be commercialized cheaply and effectively you could have:

    1. Excellent desalination/filtration capability. Water for irrigation and potable water for drinking, are the major headaches for third world countries (Africa & some parts of S. America, Asia)

    2. Greatly improved solar cells

    3. Greatly improved batteries

    This gives you the possibility of energy generation without fossil fuel in third world countries (Africa & some parts of S. America, Asia)

    Now stir in World Bank to be hit with a BRIC

    China certainly has the people, weapons and the balls to walk into Africa and make ‘civilizing it’ happen. The Chinese have already proved ‘Human Rights’ are not high on their agenda and with a bankrupt EU and USA they no longer have to pay lip service to the Western media about it. Russia and South African whites are not going to complain about ‘Human Rights’ violations of primitives and I doubt Brazil will either.

    China has, thanks to the Clinton Technology Transfer to China (1999) and the continuous hacking of cutting-edge research since then acquired much of the advanced technology in the world.

    The US army has outsourced their supply line to foreign manufacturers. LINK (Can you get ANY DUMBER!)

    So it looks like the @$$e$ in Washington DC and Brussels have very nicely engineered their own downfall. While keeping their eyes on the pie in the sky goal of Globalization they are about to trip over the sleeping Chinese Dragon. link

  8. PhilJourdan says:

    @P.G.Sharrow says: 28 March 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Uh, P.G. – I think the age of carbon predates the age of silicon. After all, carbon created the age of Silicon. ;-)

  9. Crashex says:

    My project this spring has been to try my hand at tapping a few maple trees and making some maple syrup. Boiling off the water to concentrate the sugar content takes considerable time and energy. A selective filter to drain off the water is just what is needed. So in addition to the alcohol industry, a selective filter for water would revolutionize the manufacture of sugars and syrups.

  10. Gail Combs says:

    Crashex says:….
    And a heck of a lot of other industries where one step in the process is getting rid of water from a slurry.

  11. BobN says:

    Another breakthrough associated with water is an efficient way to convert it to Hydrogen and Oxygen for later use. Here is a link for a major breakthrough. I can see these two capabilities combined for many impact products.

  12. DocMartyn says:

    Water is a liquid and He a gas; water has a concentration of 55.7 Molar, He at atmospheric pressure is 45 mM. So that gives 10^3.

  13. adolfogiurfa says:

    Change the paradigm from a collection of heuristic formulas to that of the real one of everything moving and acting as charges, where electricity and magnetism are the legs of the pythagorean triangle of forces, and we´ll begin to enjoy eden on earth. (btw. see a Feng Shui compass, where Ying and Yang are 90º apart and wonder why when you need to calculate power you have to use the 1.414 factor….)

  14. pervaporation says:

    Do you know that the same process of ethanol purification from water is actually called pervaporation (google it) and is in industrial application for 20 years at least? Th efunny thing is that graphene oxid emembranes will not work: what papers states in supplementary information and what press releases did not mentioned is that separation beocmes very slow when you go over 50% ethanol concentration and stops completely when you reach 80%

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