Graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon, but sometimes it is not a sheet of graphene we want. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute they wanted graphene foam, where the sheets make up the walls. The use for this creation is to overcome a major issue with nanostructure-based gas detectors; the whole ‘nanostructure’ part specifically. The process to make the appropriate nanostructure to detect gases is quite difficult, and the result is often so fragile it would not survive long in a commercial detector. The graphene foam though is flexible and rugged enough to survive commercial use, while still offering the benefits of a nanostructure-based system.
When tested the graphene foam was found to be 10 times more sensitive to gases than current commercial detectors, in similar environments. The graphene was actually much more sensitive, as it could detect concentrations of ammonia and nitrogen dioxide as low as 20 parts per million. Of course, graphene, in any form, is not yet ready for mass production, but when that time comes, law enforcement, defense organizations, and many other areas that require gas detection capabilities, will have a powerful tool to use.